The Literary West: An Anthology of Western American Literature

The Literary West: An Anthology of Western American Literature

The Literary West: An Anthology of Western American Literature

The Literary West: An Anthology of Western American Literature

Synopsis

This anthology, gathered and introduced by distinguished western scholar Thomas J. Lyon, offers the panoramic literary range of the American West, from the romance of the mythic Wild West to the present-day creative explosion of the real, diverse West.
The real West has been written about since first contact in the sixteenth century, in the diaries of explorers ranging from Franciscan missionary Pedro Font to Lewis and Clark. A Native American tradition of cultural expression preceded European settlers by thousands of years, and today a contemporary Native renaissance in fiction includes writers N. Scott Momaday and Linda Hogan. The naturalist John Muir stands at the beginning of a lineage of western nature writers, and successors including Mary Austin, Edward Abbey, and Rick Bass have raised ecological awareness of the West.
Over the past century, there has also been a tremendous drive in western fiction to cut through the mythology spread by the "dime novels" that gained popularity in the 1860s; Owen Wister's The Virginian and Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sagepresented a simplified and heroic West that would hold sway in the public imagination until serious novelists like Willa Cather, John Steinbeck, and Wallace Stegner established a shadow country to the mythic frontier. Today, works coming from ethnic minority writers including Amy Tan, Denise Chavez, and Rudolph Anaya have helped bring the real, diverse West to light. This authoritative and adventuresome collection shows why the West has occupied such a prominent place in the national consciousness, and reveals that western writers may currently be mapping out a significant development in American thought.

Excerpt

There are two Wests. One is a mostly mental place, a projection. Wild and open, this West is everything the over-civilized East, or Europe, is not. It's a ticket to freedom. Here, "a man's a man, and the women love it." In the big new space, you create a new life, a liberation from the past. The very soil is untapped, so even being a farmer is a kind of adventure. Plant seed and jump back.

We came into the West in the early years of our culture's worldwide blaze of expansionary triumph, a "frontier" era that would last for something more than 400 years, and from the start (for example, Coronado's trek in search of the supposedly golden "Seven Cities of Cibola" in 1540), our image of the West was prone to a certain dreaminess. The region seemed to be a natural repository for fantasy. As the unknown quarter, it might really harbor the legendary Queen Califia and her Amazonian tribe, or, later, the hypothetically easy portage to Pacific waters that Thomas Jefferson believed in, or any number of El Dorados, or, indeed (and into our own time), an endless supply of trees for lumber. It became the "territory" that Huck Finn naturally gravitated toward, and sixty-odd years later it was where Holden Caulfield thought he might, perhaps, find work on a ranch. The amazing durability of the western image as a treasure trove, an exotic land of wonders, or simply an "out," as in "out West," is good evidence of dualistic and projective consciousness, a bit out of touch.

As the scholar Walter Prescott Webb pointed out almost a half century ago, the American West was only one of several frontiers to feel the effects of the Euro-American, post-Renaissance energy. South America, Africa, India, Australia, and New Zealand, among other regions, became scenes of adventure, accumulation, and the peculiar reinforcement of identity that borderlands, as meeting-places with the unknown, tend to generate. But the West offered a persuasive set of images--the rider and his horse, the wide-brimmed hat, the sea of grass, the long, wild view to the far mesa, the war-bonneted Indian, to name some basics--and it came into our consciousness just when romance and individualism were flowering, and thus it became the dominant iconic frontier for an entire culture. Shortly after the development of the steam-powered printing press (the industrialization of literature, one might call it), the mass media would come close to solidifying the American-western construct. Over a few . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.