Published quarterly by the Western Literature Association at Utah State University, Western American Literature is a small scholarly journal with critical articles on “any aspect of literature of the American West,” book reviews, and artwork (reproduced in black and white) related to the region. This issue is comprised of three essays, Katie O. Arosteguy’s deconstruction of the myth of the cowboy in Annie Proulx’s Wyoming Stories; Kirsten Mollegaard’s analysis of Louis Sachar’s Holes; “Down the Santa Fe Trail to the City Upon a Hill,” by Andrew Menard, a consideration of the city of Santa Fe in American literature; 18 short reviews of works of criticism, fiction, and creative nonfiction; and paintings, photographs, and drawings by 9 artists.
For the most part, these are conventional scholarly works replete with footnotes and enough Benjamin, Derrida, Chodorow, Sedgewick, and Halberstam to satisfy any serious academic. They are, on the other hand, less opaque than much academic writing and, consequently, more reader-friendly. My favorite of the three is Menard’s, which is the least conventional as an academic essay, and as it happens, Menard is not an academic, but “a former conceptual artist who now writes about the nineteen-century American landscape.” His piece about the place known as the “city on the hill,” Santa Fe, is, in fact, written in an appealing and fluid style and is quite interesting.
One of the magazine’s most intriguing aspects is the range of forms and styles in the artworks presented. A graphite on Bristol board drawing, “Sanctuary,” by Bobby Ross is almost surreal; an oil painting by Delmas Howe, “Apollo’s Half-Acre,” has aspects so lifelike the painting at first appears to be a photograph; “Watch Out!” by Jon Langford, a print mounted on wood, is a 60’s style poster-like treatment of a blindfolded cowboy with an arrow through his heart and stars and snakes floating around his torso (it accompanies the article on Proulx). I loved a beautiful photograph, “Lady Reading,” by Robert Runyon (1881-1968) of a young woman sitting sideways in a chair, a single sheet of paper in her hand held high, against a shadowy background of the outdoors, from a collection at the University of Texas in Austin.