Living and Writing the New American West

About The Book

I would be converted to a religion of grass. Bow beneath the arm of fire. Connect underground. Provide. Provide. Be lovely and do no harm.

— Louise Erdrich, “Big Grass”

About The Book

In 2007, I met Lynn Stegner when we appeared on a panel together at the Festival of the Book in Missoula. It was clear from the time we met that we shared much of the same views about writing, as well as about how the West fits into the lexicon of American cultural history. I had been thinking about how I personally fit in as a Westerner since I had just recently moved back to my home state of Montana. Every time I heard a phrase pertaining to our identity as Westerners, it brought up all kinds of questions in my mind. I had lived in twelve different states in the twenty years prior to my return to Montana, and it had become clear to me during that time that the way people in other parts of the country view the West varies widely, and often seems in sharp contrast to the way Westerners see themselves.

So…after another book festival in Wyoming, where the subject of our Western identity came up again, I decided with the help of my friend Diane Arkava, that I would approach some of my writer friends about writing about this subject. Once I started gathering a few submissions, I realized it was going to be a bigger job than one person could expect to handle, and Lynn was the logical choice to ask whether she was interested in co-editing this project. Thankfully, Lynn agreed, and I am so proud of the result. We had no agenda with West of 98 other than to get a feel for how people see themselves as Westerners, and how they see the West changing in its current incarnation. The only other criteria we had was that they keep their contributions as personal as possible. We were not interested in an academic study of the West. Thank you for taking the time to explore our website. I hope you’ll read the roundtable discussion we offer to further explore questions about the West, and please feel free to post your own comments. But more importantly, order a copy of West of 98!

Thank you. Russell Rowland

From the back cover…

What does it mean to be a westerner? With all the mythology that has grown up about the American West, is it even possible to describe “how it was, how it is, here, in the West—just that,” in the words of Lynn Stegner? Starting with that challenge, Stegner and Russell Rowland invited several dozen members of the western literary tribe to write about living in the West and being a western writer in particular. West of 98 gathers sixty-six literary testimonies, in essays and poetry, from a stellar collection of writers who represent every state west of the 98th parallel—a kind of Greek chorus of the most prominent voices in western literature today, who seek to “characterize the West as each of us grew to know it, and, equally important, the West that is still becoming.”

In West of 98, western writers speak to the ways in which the West imprints itself on the people who live there, as well as how the people of the West create the personality of the region. The writers explore the western landscape—how it has been revered and abused across centuries—and the inescapable limitations its aridity puts on all dreams of conquest and development. They dismantle the boosterism of manifest destiny and the cowboy and mountain man ethos of every-man-for-himself, and show instead how we must create new narratives of cooperation if we are to survive in this spare and beautiful country. The writers seek to define the essence of both actual and metaphoric wilderness as they journey toward a West that might honestly be called home.

A collective declaration not of our independence but of our interdependence with the land and with each other, West of 98 opens up a whole new panorama of the western experience.

Lynn Stegner is the author of four works of fiction, three of them novels—Because a Fire Was in My Head (which won the Faulkner Award for Best Novel and was a Literary Ventures Selection, a Book Sense Pick, and a New York Times Editors’ Choice), Undertow, and Fata Morgana—and the novella triptych Pipers at the Gates of Dawn (Faulkner Society Gold Medal in the novella category).

Russell Rowland holds an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University, where he was a teaching fellow. His first novel, In Open Spaces, earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly and made the San Francisco Chronicle‘s bestseller list. The sequel, The Watershed Years, was a finalist for the High Plains Book Award for fiction. He has taught at several universities, and currently teaches at Montana State University-Billings and does private consultation.

West of 98: Living and Writing the New American West is published by University of Texas Press.