Academic journal article The Oral History Review

Talking about the Southwest

Academic journal article The Oral History Review

Talking about the Southwest

Article excerpt

WRITING THE SOUTHWEST. Produced by David K. Dunaway. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, Department of English, 1995. 13 radio broadcasts. 7 cassette tapes [13 programs], $45.00; 3 cassette tapes [6 programs] $23.00; 2 cassette tapes [4 programs], $14.00. Department of English, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-1106.

A few years ago a widely read newspaper heralded the increasing popularity of books on tape, declaring that reading books was on the decline and that the oral tradition of storytelling was much more fundamental to the human experience. Hearing provides a different dimension than reading, perhaps a more visceral connection to our past. Radio, despite the proliferation of other media, still holds its own with contemporary audiences as an appealing venue for orally disseminating the written word. Keeping this in mind, Writing the Southwest appeared in 1995-96 as a series of half-hour, public radio broadcasts with the objective of giving voice and recognition to often overlooked writers of the Southwest. The series is available in cassette-tape format, each side of seven cassettes featuring a different author. A companion book of the same title is currently out of print but available in some bookstores.

Writing the Southwest combines literature and biography through excerpted interviews with thirteen writers who talk about their lives and read from their works. Esteemed author Rudolfo Anaya narrates each program, while comments from University of New Mexico professor of English David King Dunaway and other literary critics are interspersed throughout. The authors included represent ethnic and cultural diversity--Native American, Hispanic, Black, Anglo, and mixed heritage--and there is also diversity in their backgrounds, literary styles, and genres. Many are not initially from the Southwest, but have chosen to live there. The impact of the vast Southwestern landscape on their lives and writing, as well as environmental concerns, are themes that reoccur in the interviews with the various authors.

Literature, especially poetry, is closely allied with the oral tradition. The power of hearing the written word read aloud conveys its own emotional nuance. Listeners have the treat of hearing candid viewpoints and engaging passages from works of such well-known authors as Barbara Kingsolver, Joy Harjo, Terry McMillan, Tony Hillerman, John Nichols, Edward Abbey, Stan Steiner, and Frank Waters. The series also introduces lesser-known writers of the region including Denise Chavez, Linda Hogan, Simon Ortiz, Alberto Rios, and Luci Tapahonso. It is always a joy to discover a new writer, and through these recorded broadcasts we become acquainted with minority writers who do not have nationwide exposure.

Native American poet Joy Harjo, also a musician, reads her poetry to the accompaniment of the saxophone, and the rhythms of poem and music meld in a powerful and moving fusion. She talks about the polarization of being between Indian and White worlds. "You can burn the house down or use the fire to cook your dinner," she concludes.

Mexican American author Denise Chavez, an actress as well as a writer, takes on the life of her characters as she dramatically reads from her novels. Although she mostly writes in English, her work is peppered with Spanish. She draws upon her Catholic background and experiences living on the border between New Mexico and Mexico. In one hilarious passage from her novel Face of an Angel, a grandmother tells her teenage granddaughter why she should become a nun.

John Nichols, author of The Milagro Beanfield War, hails from New England but adopted the Southwest as his spiritual home. Influenced by the late Edward Abbey and Henry Thoreau, Nichols writes about the poor and exploited, exposing the conflict between industrial development and the natural world. …

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