Thursday, November 25, 2004

Western literature in the sixties

Researching Western History: Topics in the Twentieth Century. Gerald D. Nash - editor. University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque : 1997. Page Number: 153.

. . .new transforming sociocultural trends disrupted the West in the later 1960s and early 1970s, as they did other regions of the country. These upheavals may not have been as upsetting as those during and immediately following World War II, but they nonetheless injected additional change and diversity into the western cultural bloodstream. Mounting discontent with an unpopular war and what seemed to be unresponsive federal, state, and local governments in dealing with urban, racial-ethnic, and family and poverty issues reoriented earlier sociocultural trends even while they ushered in new ones.

For the first time, a chorus of ethnic literary voices were heard throughout the region. Native American novelists N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Silko, and James Welch dramatized controversies over reservations, white urban life, and the history and culture of the Indian past, even while Rudolfo Anaya, Tomás Rivera, and Denise Chávez reminded readers of the notable divergent experiences of Hispanics in the region. Indeed, these authors and their novels were startling reminders that the West of Indians and Hispanics differed markedly from the culture that many European Americans considered typical of the region.14

No less noteworthy were the enlarged contributions of women to western literature. Even though Mary Austin, Willa Cather, and Mari Sandoz published notable essays, nonfiction, and novels before the 1960s, Tillie Olsen, Joan Didion, Native Americans Leslie Silko and Louise Erdrich, and Asians Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan, as well as more recent authors Marilynne Robinson and Barbara Kingsolver, represent the mounting importance of women’s voices, diversifying and enriching the canon of western writing. Erdrich’s four novels depicting Indian and small-town experiences in the northern Plains, for instance, are revealing portraits of women’s attitudes toward family, culture, and the environment that too often were missing from most earlier western fiction.15

Similar strains of change and diversity mark recent trends in western historiography. Beginning in the 1970s, many historians, but particularly those of minority backgrounds, produced an avalanche of new books about diverging racial/ethnic experiences in the West. For example, Albert Camarillo, Mario Garcia, Vicki Ruiz, and Ramón Gutiérrez authored several volumes, often innovative in approach and organization, examining Spanish-speaking peoples across the Southwest from the sixteenth into the twentieth centuries. Although Native American historians have been less active in writing monographs or syntheses of their western experiences, non-Indians Francis Paul Prucha, Richard White, Robert Utley, and Brian W. Dippie, among many others, have written superb studies of Indian policy, Indian cultures, and white-Indian conflicts. At the same time, the books and essays of Frederick C. Luebke, David Emmons, and William A. Douglass supply much-needed analytical studies of European immigrant groups.16

In several other areas, historians reveal how much our views of the West as frontier or as emerging region have changed in the last generation. Following national--in fact international--trends, western specialists have launched a blizzard of articles and books on women and families, urban and community experiences, and environmental topics. Taken together, these numerous studies create a more complex western past.

This tentative periodization of western American culture suggests an agenda for a multitude of new studies. Although Franklin Walker, Kevin Starr, and several members of the Western Literature Association have produced pathbreaking studies, western historians generally have paid scant attention to western literature, and most western literary studies beg for sound, extensive historical underpinnings.17 If we lack a well-integrated literary history of the West, one demonstrating how historical and cultural changes have shaped frontier, regional, and postregional trends in western writing, we also need wide-reaching studies treating the varied roles of ethnic groups, women and families, environmental themes, and popular figures such as the cowboy and outlaw in western prose and poetry.18

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 11/25 at 09:05 PM
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