Editors’ Note — Feb 2015

With thanks to our readers and contributors, Western Writers Online is ceasing publication after this month’s issue. Before we take our curtain call, we add a peer-reviewed article on Montana author Thomas Savage. O. Alan Weltzien, a professor of English in Savage’s hometown of Dillon, reads selections from Savage’s novels against the “psychic turmoil” of the author’s personal life to illuminate the author’s protest in particular against the “stark” options and “excruciating” experiences of western homosexual men. Read More →

Thomas Savage’s Queer Country

O. Alan Weltzien, University of Montana, Western

Novelist Thomas Savage (1915–2003) grew up in the lonely world of the northern Rockies during the twentieth century’s first half and in eight of his thirteen novels continually re‑inhabited it as a scene of gender protest. In those eight novels Savage critiques the limited roles available to men and women in the high landscapes between his hometown of Dillon, Montana, and Salmon, Idaho. His novels continually portray an atrophied masculinity, in which same‑sex desire tends to be masked by homophobia. His strong female characters also suggest his deliberate blurring of conventional gender stereotypes. The novels set in Savage country reveal an author struggling with his own complex sexuality. This unpopulated sequence of valleys and passes, which straddles the Continental Divide, becomes his own queer country: an open space of same‑sex desire muted by gender conformity. The high dry landscapes become a liminal site of potentially reconfigured identity even as that potential is denied. Read more →

Indigenizing King Lear

Michael K. Johnson, University of Maine, Farmington

Staged with an all-aboriginal cast, the 2012 production of William Shakespeare’s King Lear at Canada’s National Arts Centre creatively reimagined the play in a frontier New World setting. The production placed Shakespeare’s drama in seventeenth-century Canada, amongst a group of Algonquin people on the outer edge of European colonialism and cultural contact. Part of what makes this production “western” is the effect that frontier—that contact zone of encounter between different cultures—has on the action of the play. Though the 2012 Ottawa production of King Lear can be read as a western text, the most relevant context is the First Nations setting of the play, one that shifts the perspective on the frontier encounter away from the European experience to an aboriginal one. Read more →
About the painting, The Spirit Behind Parliament, by Janet Kaponicin

From the Dust Bowl to Frederick Manfred’s The Golden Bowl
A Journeyman’s Masterpiece

Randi Eldevik, Oklahoma State University

The time and place of Frederick Manfred’s birth — 1912, on a farm in a corner of northwestern Iowa close to the South Dakota and Minnesota borders — gave him several perspectives on American life, resulting in the creation of several kinds of fiction. Manfred’s most celebrated novels, the five Buckskin Man tales, take place in the nineteenth century and have a wild west setting. But the author’s own childhood and youth in a settled agricultural community enabled him to depict, with a more somber palette, the subdued joys and struggles of twentieth-century midwestern farm life which he himself had directly experienced. Manfred’s first novel, The Golden Bowl (1944), stands out as a precocious masterpiece, the premier American novel of rural life during the Dust Bowl. Read more →

Progressive Foote?

Gender Politics in an 1887 Letter from Mary Hallock Foote

Tara Penry, Boise State University

In the Special Collections department at Albertsons Library at Boise State University, not far from where the Footes lived in Idaho, a cryptic letter from 1887 shows the illustrator and author declining to participate in something relating to woman’s suffrage, but the letter is brief and the correspondent does not otherwise appear in Foote’s biography. Who was the correspondent? Why was she writing to an author and artist working in remote Idaho? And where did Mary Hallock Foote decide not to exhibit her work when invited? The answers to these questions not only provide a glimpse into the lives and passions of professional, writing women experiencing vastly different urban and rural wests in the 1880s, but they also suggest how complex were the politics of women’s work in this period. Though Foote believed a woman’s most important work lay in the home, this 1887 letter aligns her rather surprisingly with progressive professional women of Chicago and suggests her imperfect allegiance to the ideology of separate spheres. Read more →