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From the PBS documentary, an interactive timeline charting major events in the Western U.S.

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Power of Prose

Texas and the West

American literature is unique in the number of voices and cultures it conveys, giving it the power to transform opinions and challenge stereotypes in both obvious and subtle ways.  Christa Smith Anderson says in Texas they speak a whole ‘nuther way … and that the West is lassoed by talented writers.

In the Annie Proulx novel That Old Ace in the Hole Bob Dollar finds himself in the Texas panhandle, where LaVon Fronk tells him the history of the area and shares her own family's background there. “Most people here has stayed for generations... starting with all those big ranches. It was the shiftless ones who left. Most people stick even tighter when the goin gets tough,[1]  LaVon tells Bob how one local tradition in the novel came about. “While my Graindeddy was pickin up bones and horns, he got some a his cowboys a help him and one day they hauled a wagon-full down to Mobeetie.” The cowboys got drunk and started throwing the bones at other ranch hands, and the legendary Mobeetie Bone and Horn Fight was born.

Few writers have proven as versatile at capturing regional nuances of voice as Western author Annie Proulx. In the short story “Brokeback Mountain,” the main characters are Wyoming ranch hands. Jack and Ennis meet one summer when they work for Joe Aguirre, who gives them a job description: “What I want — camp tender in the main camp where the Forest Service says, but the herder... pitch a pup tent on the Q.T. with the sheep, out a sight, and he's goin a sleep there.[2] After their summer together on Brokeback Mountain, Jack spends some time “rodeoin,” returns and tells Ennis, “See, it ain’t like it was in my daddy's time. It's guys with money go to college, trained athaletes. You got to have some money to rodeo now.[3] A few years pass and Ennis notices a marked difference in Jack's speech since he's lived in Texas all that time: “A little Texas accent flavored his sentences, ‘cow’ twisted into ‘kyow’ and ‘wife’ coming out as ‘waf'.’[4]

A Montana horse breeder talks about the future of ranching in his own family

Proulx’s Accordion Crimes traces the path of an accordion across a century of ownership by families in many different communities and regions of the United States. A Montana horse breeder talks about the future of ranching in his own family. Peewee recounts a conversation with his son: “My youngest boy’s home from the university just now, talking about what he's gonna do, and he breaks it to me. He’s not gonna stay on the ranch. Well, I says, you don’t have to, I’ll set you up good. And if I was a young feller starting out I’d think about Appaloosas, there’s more people starting to look at the Appaloosa with a favorable eye.[5] But raising horses holds no interest for his son, who wants to be a TV cameraman.

The novel portrays the founding of a town by German Americans in Iowa

The novel portrays the founding of a town by German Americans in Iowa. When one of the men suggests “Trio” as the name of the town, another protests: “Nein, nein, no,” he says, and suggests the name they all agree on: Pranken. The word is German for “these paws, that will build our farms and the town. Let the name show the work of our hands.” But the true meaning of the name gets lost when “they filed the papers at the county seat, the word was written down as Prank.”

Their luck would have been better if they called it Hände, which “would of turned into Hand, a not bad name. But Prank? A joke. Your life becomes a joke because language mixes up.[6]

Suggested Reading/Additional Resources

  • Annie Proulx, Although she didn't start her career as a writer until she was in her 50s, in 1993 Annie Proulx became the first woman to win the prestigious PEN/Faulkner book award, for her debut novel, Postcards.
  • Foote, Horton. Selected One Act Plays of Horton Foote. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1989.
  • Gillan, Maria Mazziotti, and Jennifer Gillan, eds. Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.
  • Poey, Delia, and Virgil Suarez, eds. Iguana Dreams: New Latino Fiction. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992.
  • Proulx, Annie. Close Range: Wyoming Stories. New York: Scribner, 1999.

Back to Essay

Christa Smith Anderson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University and received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia. After several years producing and writing television news, she is now a federal government employee by day and a fiction writer the rest of the time. She received the 2002 Cynthia Wynn Herman Scholarship from George Mason University and has published non-fiction in So to Speak, a Feminist Journal of Language and Arts.

Back to Top

  1. Proulx, Annie. That Old Ace in the Hole.  New York: Scribner, 2002. 102-103.
  2. Proulx, Annie. “Brokeback Mountain”. Prize Stories 1998: The O. Henry Awards. Ed. Larry Dark. New York: Anchor Books Doubleday, 1998. 381.
  3. Proulx, p.391
  4. Proulx, p.396
  5. Proulx, p.314
  6. Proulx, Annie. Accordian Crimes. New York: Scribner,1996. 59.

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