Writing the Wild West
Spring 2019 quarter
I think it would be a positively good thing for the West to assert itself in the most interesting terms, so that the whole country must hear and be reanimated by dreams and passions it has too casually put aside and too readily forgotten.
In an earlier era “the Wild West” conjured a realm of freedom from the constraints of over-civilized society, featuring heroic figures who were nearly always Anglo-American and male. Since the late 20th century, a different view of the West’s wildness has emerged. Writers imbued with ecological, multicultural, feminist, populist, and historical thinking have created compelling stories about the dreams and passions of a great range of people and communities. Our inquiry will delve deeply into this cascading Western literature, and provide tools and guidance for students to join the dialogue by crafting a new story of their own.
Each week’s classes will involve close reading and discussion of both fiction and non-fiction. We’ll explore a multitude of personal and cultural understandings of lived—and potential—experience in the West. Among questions to be considered: What does it take to become inhabitants of a place? Can localities square individualism, pluralism, and concern for the common good? How do communities of color—Native American, Latinx, African American, Asian American—sustain autonomy, deal with racism, and shape sensibility in the West? Why does the West seem to interrogate, rebel against, mystify, goad, and inspire the rest of America?
Students will undertake a substantial writing project that leads to a polished piece of fiction, narrative non-fiction, memoir, or essay. Our readings will serve as models of style, form, vision, and technique for these projects. We’ll examine popular mythologies of the West though selected films. Instruction in fieldwork methods of observation, interviewing, documentation, and interpretation will be a significant aspect of the program—crucial to research for writing with authority and verve. Faculty will consult with students at all stages of their projects, and students will support each other as peers. The inquiry culminates with a symposium in which students present their work.
Fields of Studyamerican studies anthropology cultural studies literature writing
humanities, social sciences, environmental studies, writing, education, community service, and government.
Location and Schedule