West On The West

untitledBy Robert Laurence

In the past year, the Ozarks Poets and Writers Collective has presented as Featured Writers two short-story writers, three memoirists, two poets, a novelist and two playwrights, plus an eclectic group of writers from Fayetteville High. What’s missing? Elliott West, professor of history at the University of Arkansas, will fill the gap as a non-fiction essayist, reading from his new collection, “The Essential West: Collected Essays” (University of Oklahoma Press, 2012). Join the OPWC on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street to hear the author read. There is no charge and the public is invited. “The Essential West” will be available for purchase and a signature from the author.

Elliott West joined the UofA faculty in 1979 and has, in years since, won almost every conceivable award for teaching and historical scholarship, both on- and off-campus: UofA Teacher of the Year and the Carnegie Foundation’s Arkansas Professor of the Year (’09); finalist for the Robert Foster Cherry Award for outstanding teacher in the nation (’09); the Francis Parkman Prize and PEN Center Award (’98); the Western Heritage Award (’89 and ’95); the list goes on. His lengthy publication list includes “The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story” (Oxford University Press ’09); “The Contested Plains” (University Press of Kansas ’98); “The Way to the West” (University of New Mexico Press ’95); “Growing Up in the Country: Childhood in the Far-Western Frontier” (University of New Mexico Press ’89).

“The Essential West,” his latest book and from which he will be reading at the OPWC event, is comprised of fourteen essays, either newly written, or revised and expanded versions of previously published works, divided into three sections: Conquest, Families, and Myth. The titles of the essays within each section are indicative of West’s breadth of understanding of Western America, his unusual take on the topics, and, indeed, the impishness of his writing: “Lewis and Park: Why it Matters that the West’s Most Famous Explorers Didn’t Get Sick (or at Least Not Really Sick) in the section on Conquest; “The West before Lewis and Clark” in the section on Families; “Bison R Us” and “On the Trail with Gus and Call: Lonesome Dove and the Western Myth” in the section on Myth. As Virginia Scharff wrote reviewing “The Essential West,” “No one has written about western history with more insight, compassion, wisdom and wit than Elliott West.”

The Wall Street Journal, reporting on the Cherry Award finalists, wrote “Elliott West doesn’t seem like the coolest guy on campus.” Maybe yes; maybe no. But Richard White, the Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford, begins his Forward to “The Essential West” by writing, “Elliott West is the best historian of the American West writing today. If there were any argument about the issue, this collection pretty much lays it to rest.” To see why — and to judge the man’s coolness — join the OPWC on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 7 p.m. as we welcome Elliott West to our lectern. Before and after his reading there will be an open microphone for readers to share four minutes of their own prose, poetry, memoir or what-have-you with a generally friendly and encouraging audience. New readers and new listeners are especially welcome.

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