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 Sage presented 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.
Lyon's gathering of nearly 50 essays, short stories, poetry, and even a play, plus parts of novels, is a most imaginative look at the West of the mind and the West of place.