WAL 50.2 (Summer 2015) 

An excerpt from 

50 Years and Counting

by Tom Lynch

When the odometer on our cars rolls over to a round number, 50,000, 100,000, or, if we're lucky, 200,000, some of us watch the numbers flip over and then punch the air, yes! It feels like a small triumph over entropy and the junkyard. When the years of our lives roll over to a nice round number, 40, say, or 50, 60 even, we might also note the event with a bigger than usual celebration, declaring a victory, however tentative, over the grim reaper. We might also be inclined to wax a bit nostalgic, remembering where we've been and musing over the vicissitudes and permutations, the combination of fate and free will, that have delivered us to our present state.  

      So, as Western American Literature passes the 50 year mark, I thought it would be worth pausing to celebrate (punch a fist into the air, yes!) and to reflect on where the journal has been and where it might be going.

      Two summers ago I drove out of Logan, Utah with my Sienna minivan packed with decades worth of WAL files and back issues. As my overloaded van chugged up through Logan Canyon towards Bear Lake I wondered at times if I would make it through the pass--how much did all those boxes actually weigh? I fretted--and it was a relief to see the turquoise vista of Bear Lake spread out before me as I summited Bear Pass at 7,800. If I could make it that far, I figured, I could probably make it back to Lincoln, Nebraska, downhill all the way.

      Among the many boxes in my van was a complete set of back issues of WAL. When I set up the new journal office I dutifully arranged these on the bookshelf beside my desk. Looming over me, they serve as both an inspiration and an intimidating reminder of a responsibility to maintain a lengthy and distinguished heritage. For the past two years I have occasionally flipped through various back issues, more or less at random. But as the 50th anniversary loomed, I decided to make a more systematic examination.

      The Western Literature Association was whelped at Colorado State University in October of 1965 at a meeting of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association. Among the main tasks the founders set for themselves was the establishment of a scholarly journal. J. Golden Taylor was selected as editor, and the journal was housed in the English department at Colorado State University, where Taylor was a professor.

      The first issue, Vol. I, No. 1, appeared in the spring of 1966 and was made available for the price of "one dollar." It opened with an editor's commentary by Taylor titled "A Critical Forum for the Western Muse." In it he noted that "when a scholarly organization appears on the scene sponsoring a quarterly journal devoted exclusively to the literature of the American West, a significant new phase in Western literary scholarship has begun. Western subservience to Eastern literary dominance--strikingly parallel to the American attitude toward Europe before Emerson's 'The American Scholar'--may now be on the decline." This statement marked a historic transition, announced an aspiration, and set an antagonistic and somewhat defensive tone vis-à-vis the East that was common in the early years and that has never entirely vanished.

      This issue contained six scholarly articles, one by John R. Milton on Lord Grizzly, one by Don D. Walker on "The Mountain Man as Literary Hero," one by Maynard Fox on "Two Primitives: Huck Finn and Tom Outland," and one by Delbert E. Wylder on "Emerson Hough's Heart's Desire." It also included two considerations of the status of Western literature, Jim L. Fife's "Two Views of the American West" and Warren French's "West as Myth: Status Report and Call for Action." 

      This first issue engaged with two troublesome topics that have endured: the West as place (where the hell is the West, after all? And how do we know?); and the West as mythos (what are we to make of the dominant myth of the West that looms so large, for good or ill, in American popular culture?) You would think after 50 years we might have definitive answers to these questions, but, if recent books and articles are any evidence, apparently not. The discussion continues.


The summer 2015 issue of Western American Literature is now available. It includes three excellent articles on very different topics plus thirteen book reviews, as well as some musings by me on 50 years of the journal.

From the Editor: Fifty Years and Counting
Tom Lynch

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in True Grit: The Lovelorn Character of Mattie Ross
Lloyd M. Daigrepont

Ruth Nichols, Sky Girl, and the Aerial Frontier
Fred Erisman

“August on Sourdough”: An Archival View of Gary Snyder’s Intercultural Poetics

Andrew Hageman

Book Reviews
Susan Naramore Maher, Deep Map Country: Literary Cartography of the Great Plains
Robert T. Tally Jr.

John T. Price, The Tallgrass Prairie Reader
Matthew J. C. Cella

Kathryn Cornell Dolan, Beyond the Fruited Plain: Food and Agriculture in U.S. Literature, 1850-1905
Daniel Clausen

Michael L. Tate, editor; with the assistance of Will Bagley and Richard L. Rieck. The Great Medicine Road, Part 1: Narratives of the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trail, 1840-1848
Deborah Lawrence

Joshua B. Nelson, Progressive Traditions: Identity in Cherokee Literature and Culture
Phillip H. Round

Maxine Oland, Siobhan M. Hart, and Liam Frink, eds., Decolonizing Indigenous Histories: Exploring Prehistoric/Colonial Transitions in Archeology
Ann E. Lundberg

Manuel Broncano, Religion in Cormac McCarthy's Fiction: Apocryphal Borderlands
Megan Riley McGilchrist

Cathryn Halverson, Playing House in the American West: Western Women’s Life Narratives 1839-1987
Margaret Doane

Mark Asquith, The Lost Frontier: Reading Annie Proulx’s Wyoming Stories
Julie Scanlon

David M. Wrobel, Global West, American Frontier: Travel, Empire, and Exceptionalism from Manifest Destiny to the Great Depression
Susan Roberson

David Gessner, All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West
Michael P. Branch

Kim Bancroft, The Heyday of Malcolm Margolin: The Damn Good Times of a Fiercely Independent Publisher
Gioia Woods

Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey, Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp: A Nisei Youth Behind a World War II Fence
Eve Oishi

© Tom Lynch 2015