On this site:


Montana's Enduring Frontier

Cowboy Girl





Red Lodge

About John

Get this feed:

Subscribe to John Clayton's Blog by Email


Authenticity in bookfests 

Wyoming writer Bill Croke responds to my comments on the Billings bookfest: "Billings isn't a writer's town, and despite the presence of Rocky and MSU-Billings, not a "college town". "High Plains" would have packed them in in Bozeman or Missoula, and that says something about the value of the Montana literary scene, that is, it's mostly academically inspired.

"This might cause us to speculate further as to whether it's a literary culture that's elitist and therefore marginal." Bill goes on to suggest that in his state, the academic scene (Mark Spragg excepted) is dominated by "Academic carpetbaggers telling Wyomingite Westerners how to view themselves."

Bill's comments are a little too extreme for my tastes. He seems to want academia out of literaria, while acknowledging that literaria would then cease to exist. I don't see the point of that.

But I find the comments interesting for a couple of reasons. One is the notion of carpetbaggers. Bill himself is not a native Wyomingite, so who is he to throw stones? Well, to answer my own question, he's someone who came to the West without the security of tenure or even a fulltime job. So does that give him more legitimacy to complain about carpetbaggers? (I don't know, but I think it's an interesting question.)

The second is the whole notion of legitimacy. Why do people who write about the West, in particular, require that legitimacy? In Unsettling the Literary West: Authenticity and Authorship, Nathaniel Lewis addresses that very point. Here's Lewis' summary of the book: "western writers consistently claim that their work is "authentic" (realistic, accurate, reliable) and that they themselves have some sort of authentic relationship to place and history. That is, the region's writers frequently deny their own imaginative originality and say that they are presenting the Real West rather than creative literature. In turn, readers and critics have generally gone along, treating western literature as an imitation of the Real West, and judged the writing by its accuracy. This is easy to see in western literary criticism, which is inevitably historicist."

Hmmm, what if the next bookfest included Croke and the academic Lewis?

Join the discussion at

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?