The first StoryLines America series aired in the Northwest (Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming) and Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, southern Colorado and West Texas) regions in fall 1997. The project was based on “Big Sky Radio,” a series of library-sponsored call-in radio programs in Montana, and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
A.B. Guthrie, Jr., The Way West
A Pulitzer-Prize winner in 1949, The Way West evaluates and explores the historical West from the 1830s to the 1950s. In this novel, Guthrie tests the frontier hypothesis of Frederick Jackson Turner—that as Americans moved west and encountered the wilderness, they were purified by their ordeals and became a new and better people. Further, the book examines and questions the heroic code of the American pioneer—self-respect, stoicism, courage, and endurance.
Sherman Alexie, The Business of Fancydancing
Sherman Alexie’s first book received highest praise as an authentic voice of contemporary Native American reservation life. Alexie’s poems are in turn comic and tragic, but collectively they expose for the reader the emotional life of their characters. They examine Native American values and conflicts and remind us again of the vast spectrum of cultural differences within the borders of our nation.
H.L. Davis, Honey in the Horn
With this, his first novel, H.L. Davis won the Pulitzer Prize in 1935. The book satirizes the settling of Oregon and presents realistic portraits of colonial characters-the golden pioneer, helpless girl, innocent community, noble savage, and lost orphan boy. Honey in the Horn raises questions about the mythology of American innocence, and through his main character’s quest, Davis rejects and revises the frontier myth of escape.
D’Arcy McNickle, The Surrounded
The Surrounded is heralded as the prototype Native American novel in which the protagonist returns home after having experienced the world beyond the reservation and must eventually rediscover the ways of his tribe in order to define himself and his place in the world. By dramatizing the cultural and personal conflicts of forced assimilation, McNickle raises important questions about white supremacy, cultural imperialism, and the integrity of indigenous cultures.
Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
Norman Maclean’s classic novel examines the glories of fly fishing, the purifying effects of nature on the human soul, and the mysteries of one man’s responsibility for another. The story of two brothers, one who pleases his Presbyterian minister-father, and the other, who falls into a life of drinking and personal failure, this book begs the reader to consider again the age-old question, “Are we our brother’s keeper?”
John Okada, No-No Boy
This book dramatizes the quest for identity of a young Pacific Northwest Nisei (second-generation Japanese American) man who rejects both military service in World War II and U.S. government relocation camps for Japanese Americans. After spending the war in prison, Ichiro returns to Seattle, parents, friends, veterans, institutions-all of which generate conflicts that he must resolve. No-No Boy raises significant questions about what it means to be an American, an immigrant, and an artist on the Pacific coast.
Ivan Doig, This House of Sky
This House of Sky is a memoir of itinerant ranch life in Montana, and explores with haunting candor the complexities of family relationships between the author, his father Charlie, and his grandmother, Bessie Ringer. Beautifully written, the book portrays the author’s love of his homeland and the ranching life-style of his father, but details the painful necessity for him to leave his boyhood, Montana, and ranching behind.
Mary Clearman Blew, Runaway
In this collection of short stories, Mary Clearman Blew focuses on rural, northwestern women who have departed from the stereotypical norms of western frontier myths. She asks, “What happens to women seeking validation for their new life?” Juley, a recurring character who escapes into university life, provides one kind of answer. This is an important book in that it broadens the reader’s understanding of the American West as it is experienced by women.
William Kittredge, Owning It All
William Kittredge grew up on and then managed his family’s large cattle ranch in eastern Oregon. There, he encountered first-hand the myths of land, manhood, and “manifest destiny” on which American culture is founded. Owning It All is a book of autobiographical essays that delve into those myths and their effects on our lives today.
Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Sixties counterculture guru Kesey writes of the heroic, tragic defiance of a fictional logger named R.P. McMurphy, who has been incarcerated in a mental hospital. Both hilarious and sad, this is the age-old story of the struggle for individual freedom and self-worth amid the dehumanizing forces of society’s impersonal laws and institutions. The novel’s narrator, Chief Bromden, who is also institutionalized, finally escapes, inspired by the spirit of his hero, McMurphy.
Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping
Most small towns in America have at least one household that just doesn’t fit in. The yard may be overgrown with shrubbery and thistles, the shades drawn day and night, cats and dogs wandering everywhere. We worry that the residents of these houses signal too loudly the unraveling of our social fabric; they cause us to examine our towns, schools, jobs, plans. Ruthie, narrator of Housekeeping, is a quirky, eccentric, endearing character who lives in such a house. The book causes the reader to wonder if—in today’s world of people moving around so often-it’s possible for us to claim a particular address as “home.”
Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men
Of Wolves and Men is a book about wolves, but it is also about men, human nature, and the human struggle to understand our position on this planet in relation to other species. “The truth is that we know little about the wolf,” Lopez asserts. In learning more about the wolf, as in learning about any other species, we might gain information critical to our own survival. We might also learn the skill of co-existence.
Mourning Dove, Coyote Stories
Mourning Dove was born into the Okanogan tribe in northeast Washington in 1888. Her first novel, Cogewea, was probably the first written by an American Indian woman. Coyote Stories is the first published collection of Native American oral stories told by a Native American woman. This book displays the imaginative complexity of Plateau cultures, raises questions about simplistic stereotypes of Native Americans, and offers an insider’s view of the legendary trickster, Coyote.