Past President’s Address 1993

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Past President’s Address 1993

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010


Joseph M. Flora, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, WLA President 1992

WLA Past-presidential Address, given 1993 in Wichita, Kansas

Asked for a title for this address, I at first toyed with “A Tenderfoot Rides West.” I am, after all, the first WLA president to come from an eastern university, to have eastern roots, to have spent virtually all of his life east of the Mississippi. But tenderfoot hardly seemed right. I have been a WLA member for too long, and you have charged me with too many tasks for that sobriquet to work. You’ve rewarded me with merit badges and unbounded good fellowship—and in 1992 the honor of Head Scout. Thank you for the spurs.

So I opted for dude, which in one of its meanings carries the eastern connotation. Definition number one of my dictionary reads, “An easterner or city person who vacations on a western ranch.” Listed as slang in definition three, dude is “a fellow, a chap.” In any sense, the word is informal, as this address is designed to be. For any tautology, apologies.

The label West is, of course, a much more slippery word than dude. It conveys history as well as mythology. At the University of Michigan, we sang—and folks there still sing—“Hail, hail to Michigan, the champions of the West.” Michigan originated as a part of the Northwest Territory. “Easterners” certainly thought of it as a wild, wild West. As late as 1866, when native Ohioan William Dean Howells published Venetian Life, James Russell Lowell expressed amazement that a book of such “airy elegance” could have been written by someone from “the rough-and-ready West.” Such attitudes survived Lowell. I recall from my undergraduate days Austin Warren’s explaining to Michigan students that cultured Bostonians thought of anything west of Pittsburgh as one vast region known as “Ioway.” Easterners are wont to make midwesterners feel like westerners.

But though the tension between East and West has been one ingredient of American life, historically the pull west has been the dominant pull. Most Americans, in some ways, have been westerners. In his whole life, Thomas Jefferson never ventured more than a few miles west of Monticello, but he it was who maneuvered the Louisiana Purchase; he it was who sent Lewis and Clark on their great journey to the Pacific. To good purpose, J. Golden Taylor included Cambridge, Mass., poet E. E. Cummings in his anthology of western American literature, along with Robert Frost, who, though born in San Francisco, is counted the great poet of New England experience. Easterners and midwesterners of my generation and the generation before me grew up with a vision of the West. We thought about it a lot. We were guided by Zane Grey and a host of other popular writers who wrote Westerns. Almost weekly, we would see at least one Western film, sometimes more. And West was where California lay—still the promised land in those pre-Joan Didion days.

And so I remember the adventure of my first trip to the trans-Mississippi West. In graduate school, I thought a change of scene for a summer would enhance my preparations—two summer sessions in one summer at Berkeley would allow me to make a good start on my German, and I could take a couple of English courses besides. It was a happy choice: thirteen weeks on the campus by the Bay, in what seemed to me weather close to that of Heaven. It was wonderfully rewarding. One weekend took me to Yosemite, another to Napa Valley, and on another I flew to Los Angeles to see an aunt and uncle I hadn’t seen in years and a cousin I had never met. Los Angeles didn’t seem very different from Detroit, but Yosemite was terrain that spoke adventure. Unlike the owl in Mark Twain’s “Baker’s Blue Jay Yarn,” I was not disappointed. Mostly, of course, I was taking in the ambience of Berkeley and San Francisco. My thoughts had been Western in a larger sense mainly on the cross-country drive to Berkeley. How wonderful it was—and how keen was that very special moment when our automobile crossed the Mississippi. I was in the West.

I relived the magic of my first crossing some fifteen years later, when Scribner’s published Hemingway’s The Nick Adams Stories. It contained a fragment that Philip Young titled, aptly enough, “Crossing the Mississippi.” This was probably Hemingway’s first attempt at a story set west of the Mississippi. Nick is bound, apparently, for Kansas City, though we don’t know why. It may not be a bad guess that he was going to begin work on a newspaper. It’s October of 1917. News of a White Sox victory over New York in the World Series cheers Nick, helps him check the wasteland images that he sees as his train pauses before making its crossing. Nick takes with him the optimism that many travelers from the East or Midwest took as they made that crossing. Hemingway wrote, “Crossing the Mississippi would be a’ big event [Nick] thought, and he wanted to enjoy every minute of it.” The reality is different from what Nick had expected, but he observes carefully as the train progresses over the long bridge, “The river seemed to move solidly downstream, not to flow but to move like a solid, shifting lake, swirling a little where the abutments of the bridge jutted out. Mark Twain, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and LaSalle crowded each other in Nick’s mind as he looked up the flat, brown plain of slow-moving water. ‘Anyhow, I’ve seen the Mississippi,’ he thought happily to himself.” A force of nature against a man-made structure, an author, his living characters, a French explorer “crowd” Nick’s mind—history and nature and myth and literature. Nick has one of those highly satisfying moments that Hemingway occasionally gave him: “‘Anyhow, I’ve seen the Mississippi,’ he thought.” The moment was so ecstatic that Hemingway stopped writing with that sentence. He didn’t give us a story, but the fragment satisfactorily catches a special moment that many Americans have experienced, me included, upon crossing the great river.

For Americans who cross that river east to west, there are usually consequences, often great consequences. Sometimes lives are changed unalterably. And many a Western story describes such transformation. Think about the easterner of Crane’s “The Blue Hotel.” The West has challenged his notion of himself, and he knows that he failed the test. His view of human nature will be ever dark: “Johnnie was cheating. I saw him. I know it. And I refused to stand up and be a man.” The poor Swede of Crane’s story was also a newcomer to the West, so caught up by his own stereotypes of the West that he ensured his own death. Though strangers sometimes meet violent ends, writers have also enjoyed describing positive transformations. We think of the narrator of Owen Wister’s The Virginian and of Molly Stark Wood.

Going west makes a difference not only in literature, but in life. Theodore Roosevelt, Owen Wister, Zane Grey, Jack Schaefer, Willa Cather, Mary Hallock Foote, and a host of others provide ready examples. Of course, the Western Literature Association itself has its own history of consequences of eastern visits to the West. You will be interested in one of the most recent. Last year, Doris Betts of North Carolina gave the keynote address at WLA. Her novel Heading West described consequences of an unscheduled visit west by Nancy Finch, a librarian from North Carolina: Nancy had been kidnapped. At WLA, southerner Betts discussed her use of Western themes in that novel and reflected on the influence of Western writing on her. But while she was in Reno, Betts was listening and observing—as writers do. When Thomas Wolfe had visited Reno some fifty years earlier, he had been fascinated with the gaudiness of the city’s chief industry and all that surrounds it. Betts quickly got by that pleasure seeking and focused her inner eye elsewhere. She went on our Saturday outing, and it proved for her to be more than a tourist’s excursion. The country around Reno, especially Donner Lake and its surroundings, spoke to her. At WLA, Betts found the theme and setting for her next novel. She is now subscribing to the Sparks, Nevada, newspaper, suggesting that her novel won’t be a retelling of the Donner excursion. As Betts says, that has already been done, by Vardis Fisher and others, all of which she has been busily reading. But the Donner story will be reflected in her theme.

A graduate student when I first crossed the Mississippi, I was about to meet dimensions of the West I hadn’t before considered. A couple of years later in a seminar, I became acquainted with the work of Vardis Fisher. The rest is history. Through his work, I was often in imagination west of the Mississippi. The next physical trip I took was, in fact, to Hagerman, Idaho, and the Fisher ranch. That was a weekend to remember! It personalized a correspondence with Fisher that had been under way, one that after Fisher’s death was extended to Opal Fisher.

I learned from Fisher about the founding of the Western Literature Association, though several meetings would pass before I attended my first one. Back East, a member of MLA and SAMLA, I was making my way, with much naiveté, in a new region on a modest salary at a university with limited travel budgets. Attending WLA seemed a remote and exotic possibility. I’ll be ever grateful to Wilber Stevens of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for his telephone call inviting me to be on a panel on the works of Vardis Fisher. “I’ll do it,” I said. Now I stress to graduate students: “You are your dissertation.”

The year of my first WLA meeting was 1975, the place Durango. My flight took me through Denver. In that airport, you knew you weren’t in the East or the Midwest. The clue was in the garb of all those Western Dudes—the cowboy boots and hats and the bolos. The women, however, could have been from Atlanta. As Melville might say, “Surely there is meaning in these things.” And I remember the Durango airport. That confirmed that I was in the West.

If the airport was small and remotely located, that quickly became unimportant. Western welcome really began there, for a group of WLA people were on the flight. Audrey Peterson was among them, and I was soon talking with someone who had not only heard of Vardis Fisher but knew my book on him! And so it continued in Durango, where at the convention hotel Jack Schaefer himself was one of the Western voices making me and others feel at home, part of a fellowship as well as a professional organization. Like other newcomers, I was meeting people who wished to see me again. The excitement of my first WLA meeting was such that already I was making plans to be present the next year in Bellingham. Helen Stauffer (Kearney is pronounced “Carney,” she taught me) was also among the first-timers that year. She will remember how we all hated to see the meeting end. To embellish would be tedious, but I am sure that many here could also testify to the special qualities of first WLA meetings, to the good fellowship and the bonds that were made.

A quick check of the membership directory will confirm how successful the band of western scholars who founded the association have been in attracting easterners to the organization. Many of us have served on the Executive Committee of the organization, and after I had been in WLA for a few years, some folks began to suggest that it might even be appropriate to have a president from the East, pointing out that the location of the meeting need not be tied to the school of the president. With the growing number of easterners, some began to suggest that the Association might even wish to meet one year in the East. Hints of manifest destiny! In 1980, WLA went to the great river itself for its meeting. In 1983, George Day carried us to Minneapolis and St. Paul—Big Ten country, where the ghosts are those of Sinclair Lewis and F. Scott Fitzgerald, though Fred Manfred could have given us a tour of the upper regions of the Father of Waters.

When in 1989 members of the Executive Committee asked me to accept nomination as vice president of WLA, with presidency two years down the road, I thought it a good moment for me to say yes, to agree to the work that would, I hoped, say thank you to an organization that had been not only extraordinarily welcoming, but extraordinarily supportive of my work and had opened my eyes to new opportunities and new ways of seeing. Ann Ronald agreed to hold the 1992 meeting in Reno. Let me here renew my thanks to her and to her splendid colleagues at the University of Nevada-Reno for their partnership. I might have managed local arrangements by phone, or a quick visit, but I was glad that I didn’t have to do that.

My election was the occasion for renewed discussion of the possibility for holding an annual meeting east of the Mississippi. There might, after all, be some point to our meeting in Asheville, North Carolina, let’s say, Vardis Fisher had keenly identified with Thomas Wolfe because of the similarities of their mountain origins. Or we might have met in Boone, North Carolina, and had a major focus on re-imagining older notions of West.

When the Executive Committee talked about the possibility of some day meeting in the East, we agreed that my election was a good moment to go beyond cocktail-hour talk; to see what the membership as a whole might think about meeting in the East now and then. So we devised a questionnaire, and in bright purple so it couldn’t be missed, it went to the membership.

For several weeks, the purple forms kept my mailbox full and enlivened my reading. One hundred thirty-seven members responded. That is a pretty strong survey response, I think. The responses that came after the deadline were less impassioned than those that came in the initial flurry and were often more thoughtful. There was, to be sure, a good deal of passion from the most eager respondents. For some members, going east of the Mississippi for WLA would approach something like blasphemy; others would be extremely reluctant to go in that direction—for any purpose—I gathered. When their time comes, they want to die in the West—and with their boots on.

Noting the increasing percentage of members who live in the East and suggesting that holding some conference meetings in the East might equalize the burden of the greater travel expenses easterners face, the questionnaire asked members to agree or disagree with this statement: “WLA conferences should be held ONLY in the region of North America WEST of the Mississippi River (or its average longitude).” The form provided space for comments. Fifty-seven members agreed with the statement; seventy-six members disagreed. Four members (hating to be bound by statements with only) did not check but explained; they would fit in the disagree column. So count the vote 76 for policy that might permit an occasional meeting in the East and 57 against such policy. That’s a bigger margin than President Clinton got on his budget, but it is hardly a pressing mandate for change. Certainly it did not seem to me strong enough to recommend that the Executive Committee consider a policy for meeting in the East every fourth year, as some recommend. Most easterners like coming west very regularly, though they tend to approve the notion that it might be desirable for WLA to meet in the East, at least occasionally. Some Westerners eloquently argued the same position. The Chaucer Society, as one of you noted, does not meet only in England. Likewise, Western literature is not just for the West. Nor are all who write it western by every standard.

There are, of course, practical considerations in these matters. An advisory vote does not chart a course, as a national budget vote might. WLA does, after all, want a good attendance at its meetings. So does SAMLA, which prides itself on being the largest of the regional MLAs. SAMLA has its best attendance when the meeting is in Atlanta; so we meet there most often, currently in alternate years. Washington, DC, does well for SAMLA, too. But a Florida site will cut down on attendance. It’s too far for too many people. Members in the Upper South tend to stay away. But SAMLA continues to experiment. Next year SAMLA meets in Baltimore, and probably Florida will get another chance in some distant year. Even now, the SAMLA membership is voting on the proposition that all meetings be held in Atlanta.

The drama for MLA is similar. New York is a sure draw, but there was a falling-off, some of you know, when the meeting was held in Houston, and I make no prediction about Toronto. But come what may, MLA will survive! Count on it.

WLA will wish to be similarly pragmatic, but like MLA it should not be afraid to experiment. It is encouraging that October 1995 will find WLA meeting in Canada for the first time ever. We seem agreed, however, that the Association does not want to meet in big eastern or midwestern cities. It doesn’t want Cleveland, but it might like Boone. Some year, we might want to meet on the shores of Lake George in New York, one of the beautiful Wests of James Fenimore Cooper.

There would be no point in holding SAMLA’s meeting in St. Louis, or in holding the Rocky Mountain MLA’s meeting there. And although there are members in those organizations not from the defining regions, the organizations exist first to serve a region. The Western Literature Association, by contrast, is a national organization; it has increasingly become national in membership and in vision. Recognizing West as a fluid concept in American history, we study the literature of many Wests.

I draw back from any formulas or ratios for future meeting sites, but I hope we will continue to keep our options open. If we make a mistake some year, WLA will survive. The survey responses—with that majority favoring experimentation—strike me as worthy of inclusion in the WLA archives, and I submit them this day to Tom Lyon.

Whatever glitches or triumphs lie ahead, I am confident that we will continue to be a noticeably welcoming and inclusive organization. “Roll on, WLA, roll on!” This eastern dude salutes you and cheers you on to even greater achievement.

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The Dorys Grover Awards

Friday, June 12th, 2015

In 1966, Washington State University graduate student Dorys Grover joined the fledgling Western Literature Association and started attending its conferences. From her books on WLA’s first Distinguished Achievement Award recipient, Vardis Fisher, to her work on Hemingway and Graves, Professor Grover helped to develop the field of western American literary studies. After teaching for over two decades at East Texas State University, Professor Grover retired in 1993, splitting her time between Texas and Pendleton, Oregon, where she grew up.

One of her doctoral students, Joyce Kinkead, Professor of English at Utah State University, has created the Dorys Grover Award in recognition of her mentor’s dedication to both western American literature and to graduate students. Now in its fourth year, the Dorys Grover Award, in the amount of $200 cash and a banquet ticket, will be given to two graduate students presenting at this year’s annual conference whose papers contribute to our critical understandings of region, place, and space in western American literatures.

Creative work is not considered for the Grover Awards.

Please submit an abstract by the proposal deadline. Once your proposal has been accepted, submit the complete, conference-length paper (not exceeding 15 pages) with a cover letter indicating that you wish to be considered for the Grover Award to both of our presidents: Emily Lutenski and Michael Johnson. The deadline for the completed paper is August 15.

You may submit the same paper for the Taylor Award, if you wish. Award recipients are expected to attend the banquet, where they will receive the award, and to send a letter with the delivered paper to Dorys Grover AFTER the conference.

Note: The award can only be received once.

The Dorys Grover Award Recipients

2017April Anson
2017Lisa Fink
2016Amy Gore
2016Michael Olausen
2015William V. Lombardi
2015Michael P. Taylor
2014Brittany Henry
2014Lisa Locascio
2014Ashley Reis

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Students Attending the WLA Conference

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Submitting a Conference Paper

WLA’s annual conference includes panel sessions where participants read scholarly or creative works related to the literature of western America  and culture. Each paper presentation is allowed approximately 20 minutes (which is about 10 pages of double-spaced text). If you need some instruction on how to write an abstract for a conference paper, check out the details provided here: Conference Abstracts. Please see conference details for the current WLA Conference. If you have any questions regarding these awards, contact the current WLA Presidents.

Award for Best Graduate Student Paper Submitted to the Conference

In 1984, the J. Golden Taylor Award for Best Essay Submitted to the WLA Conference by a Graduate Student was awarded for the very first time to Anne K. Phillips (now associate professor and assistant department head in English at Kansas State University). Named in honor of the first editor of Western American Literature, the Taylor Award is a prestigious award juried by a team of experts in the field and given annually to a work of scholarship submitted for the annual conference. Creative work is not considered for the Taylor; however, creative work may be submitted to the association’s Manfred Prize, and graduate student participants have been successful in winning that in the past (see Manfred Award). To be eligible for the Taylor award, please submit a conference paper proposal by June 15 and a complete paper of no more than 15 pages (if your proposal is accepted) by August 1, to, asking to be considered for the award.
Note: The award can only be received once.

Former Taylor Recipients

A few Taylor alumni at the 2009 Conference in Spearfish, SD: Front row: Joshuah O’Brien (2009), Cheryll Glotfelty (1987) [initiator and editor of the the WLA Syllabus Exchange], Matthew Lavin (2008) [co-editor of the WLA Syllabus Exchange project] Back row: Matt Burkhart (2003), Nancy Cook (1988) [present WLA Treasurer, 2011 WLA President], Anne Kaufman (1998) [2014 WLA Co-President], Evelyn Funda (1993) [former WAL Book Review Editor]


2017: Elena V. Valdez, Rice University
2016: Jada Ach, University of South Carolina
2015: Jenna Hunnef, University of Toronto
2014: Aubrey Streit Krug, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
2013: Heather Dundas, University of Southern California
2012: Sylvan Goldberg, Stanford University
2011: Christopher Muniz, University of Southern California
2010: Alex Young, University of Southern California
2009: Joshuah O’Brien, West Texas A&M
2008: Matthew J. Lavin, University of Iowa
2007: Patrick Gleason, University of California, San Diego
2006: Angela Waldie, University of Calgary
2005: John Gamber, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
2004: Ianina Arnold, University of Idaho
2003: Matt Burkhart, University of Arizona
2002: Laurie Clements Lambeth, University of Houston
2001: Virginia Kennedy, Montclair State University
2000: Jenny Emery Davidson, University of Utah
1999: Jenny Emery Davidson, University of Utah
1998: Anne L. Kaufman
1997: Jonathan Pitts, SUNY-Buffalo
1996: Wes Mantooth
1995: Phil Coleman-Hull
1994: David Mazel
1993: Evelyn I. Funda, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln
1989: Nat Lewis
1988: Nancy Cook, SUNY-Buffalo
1987: Cheryll Burgess Glotfelty, Cornell University
1986: Linda A. Hughson-Ross
1984: Anne K. Phillips

The Dorys Grover Awards

In 1966 Washington State University graduate student Dorys Grover joined the fledgling Western Literature Association and started attending its conferences. From her books on WLA’s first Distinguished Achievement Award recipient Vardis Fisher to her work on Hemingway and Graves, Professor Grover helped to develop the field of western American literary studies. After teaching for over two decades at East Texas State University, Professor Grover retired in 1993, splitting her time between Texas and Pendleton, Oregon, where she grew up.

One of her doctoral students, Joyce Kinkead, Professor of English at Utah State University, has created the Dorys Grover Award in recognition of her mentor’s dedication to both western American literature and to graduate students. The Dorys Grover Award, in the amount of $200 each, will be given to two graduate students presenting at this year’s annual conference whose papers contribute to our critical understandings of region, place, and space in western American literatures

Creative work is not considered for the Grover Awards.

Please submit an abstract by the proposal deadline (usually in mid-June). Once your proposal has been accepted, submit the complete, conference-length paper (not exceeding 15 pages) with a cover letter indicating that you wish to be considered for the Grover Award to The deadline for the completed paper is August 1.

You may submit your paper to both the Taylor and the Grover Awards (as long as it fits the criteria for the Grover Awards).

Note: The award can only be received once. 

The Louis Owens Awards for Graduate Student Presenters

The WLA honors the great writer and scholar Louis Owens for his contributions to western American and American Indian literary studies and for his unfailing generosity as a colleague, teacher, and mentor. The goal of the Louis Owens Awards is to build for the future of the Western Literature Association by modeling Owens’ own support and encouragement of diverse graduate student engagement in western literature and culture studies. The Owens Awards are intended to foster ever-greater diversity within the WLA membership, to help broaden the field of western American literary studies, and to recognize both graduate student scholarship and financial need.

The Owens Award consists of a cash award valued at up to $500. (The exact amount depends on donations and on the number of awards given.) To apply, please submit the following to Lisa Tatonetti, Chair of the Awards Committee, by August 1 to:

1. A completed Louis Owens Award Application 2018. (The 2018 application is not yet available.)

2. A copy of your WLA conference proposal.

3. A writing sample of 8-10 pages, double-spaced. This does not have to be on the same topic as the conference proposal but should reflect your work in the field of western American literary and cultural studies. (This may change in 2018. Please check back.)

All materials should be sent by August 15, 2018.

Note: The award can only be received once. For information on writing an abstract, see conference abstracts. All other questions in regards to the Owens Award/s should be directed to Prof. Lisa Tatonetti.

Please forward the information to any graduate student who may be eligible to apply.

Meet our Owens Recipient from 2011: Johannes Fehrle

I came to my first WLA conference as a graduate student in 2010. I was working on a Ph.D. dissertation on revisionist Westerns in Candian and U.S. American literature at Freiburg University in Southern Germany and found myself pretty much in isolation from other scholars working on western American literature and culture. At this point, I had given papers in colloquia and at Ph.D. conferences, but the WLA Conference was the first “real” conference I submitted a paper to. In retrospect, I have to say I could not have chosen a better conference or wished for a more welcoming, interested and supportive group of scholars and colleagues. Since that first conference, my ties and gratefulness to the WLA have only deepened. I was lucky enough to receive the Owens Award in 2011, which allowed me to return. The contacts and friends I made at these conferences have benefitted me immensely: I received valuable feedback for my dissertation because I got to test new ideas by presenting early versions of my dissertation chapters at the conference. My talks have also led to publications with other members.

Now that I am a bit more firmly situated in the academic world (I completed my Ph.D. in 2012 and am for the time being gainfully employed at a university), I am glad to be able to give back to the organization. Since 2013, I have been a member of the Executive Council, which discusses the future of the organization. Telling my colleagues about my positive experience, I was able to recruit other German scholars to attend the conference. Their experience has been much the same as mine: they benefitted greatly in their research and were awed by the openness of the community at the conference. Even though I travel farther than most, like many other attendees, I set aside time and money to travel to the WLA Conference each year, and I am glad to say I have yet to miss one.

—Johannes Fehrle, University of Mannheim (2015)

Professionalization Panels

In 2007, Grad Rep Angela Waldie organized WLA’s first annual Graduate Student Professionalization Panel, a roundtable panel session in which fellow graduate students and experienced faculty members give brief remarks on career-related issues, and then the session is opened up for discussion among all those attending. Since then, we have sometimes had two Grad Student Professionalization Panels. Past professionalization panels have discussed why graduate students should aim to publish and ways they can do just that, how to maximize your time and effort when writing a thesis or dissertation, ways to conquer the first-time teacher jitters, transitioning from an MA program to a PhD program, and what to expect at your thesis or dissertation defense. To request a topic for the panel to cover, email your graduate student representatives, Rachel Bolten and Jes Lopez.


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Submission Information

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

WLA Conference 2015

Co-hosted by David Fenimore, University of Nevada, Reno,
and Susan Bernardin, SUNY Oneonta

October 14-17, 2015

THEME: “Visual Culture of the Urban West”

Submission Information:

In addition to proposals on any aspects of the literature and culture of the North American West, we especially encourage innovative proposals on the following:

– Visual culture, film, performance
– Environmental art, politics, justice, literatures
– Indigenous Wests, writers, filmmakers, artists
– Basque-American writers
– Latino/a Studies in Western places
– Twain and Tahoe
– Gendered spaces in the West
– Emigrant and mining narratives
– The recreational West: tourism, mountaineering, river-running

All participants must be members of the Western Literature Association. 

Proposals for panels and roundtable discussions should include an abstract for each paper or presentation.  Proposal deadline: June 15, 2015.  To submit presentations, go to You will be asked to create an account with user name and password, after which you may upload and edit your submission(s) at any time prior to the deadline. (User accounts from previous conferences were not carried over, so please take a minute to create a new account.)
Contact us with questions about the conference at

DEADLINE: June 15, 2015.

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WLA Conference 2020

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

55th WLA Conference

Theme: The Graphic West

Location: San Diego, California

WLA Co-Presidents for 2020 will be Dr. Rebecca Lush, California State University San Marcos, and Dr. Kerry Fine, Arizona State University.   

Rebecca Lush

Rebecca Lush

Kerry Fine

Kerry Fine











More information to come as it becomes available.


Tags: , , , ,
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WLA Conference 2018

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015


Indigenous Hubs, Gateway Cities, Border States

The WLA Conference 2018 will be hosted by Dr. Emily Lutenski, St. Louis University, and Dr. Michael K. Johnson, University of Maine, Farmington

The conference will be held in St. Louis, MO, Oct. 24 – 27, 2018.
Venue: Chase Park Plaza Hotel.

Emily Lutenski

Emily Lutenski



Michael K. Johnson

Michael K. Johnson









April 16, 2018

Dear WLA Members:

Greetings from St. Louis! We are looking forward to getting your paper, panel, and roundtable proposals for the 2018 Western Literature Association conference, to be held October 24-27, in the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis.

We are ready to start receiving your proposals!

To submit a proposal, go to:

Please keep in mind a few things:

  1. ConfTool is the only way to submit your proposal. Even if you’ve submitted through ConfTool before, you will need to create a new account for the 2018 conference, which you can do starting at the above URL. Once you have finished your submission, you will receive a notice from ConfTool indicating your submission success. If you don’t receive this email, check your spam folder and be sure to allow messages from ConfTool to get through to you, as some other important information (such as proposal acceptance notices) will like be sent through this system.
  2. You should submit an abstract for your paper only. For panels and roundtable, please remember that each member of the panel or roundtable must create an individual account and submission. The individual contributions on a panel are linked by the title of the panel, so for pre-formed panels, please enter the title of the panel followed by the title of the individual contribution. (Example: “Gateway Cities” / “St. Louis as Gateway West”)
  3. Shortly before the conference, the schedule will be available to download through the Conference4Me app (and will also be available online and at the conference in print form). A unique feature of the Conference4Me app is that it will allow you to download the schedule to your phone, and it will allow you to view the abstracts of papers accepted for the conference. We will send out instructions for downloading the Conference4Me app prior to the conference dates.
  4. The deadline for all submissions is June 15, 2018.
  5. Graduate students who wish to have their papers considered for the Taylor Award or the Grover Award, creative writers wishing to be considered for the Manfred Award, and those vying for the coveted Willa Pilla (awarded for most humorous), please note there are individual items to check in the topics list in order to alert us of your desire for consideration for those awards. Descriptions of these awards can be found on the WLA website:
  6. Final copies of papers for the Taylor, Grover, and Manfred Awards are due (to Michael at no later than August 15 so they can be sent to the appropriate Award Committees for consideration.
  7. Registration information will be sent out (via email and on the website) later, after acceptances have been made (probably in early July).
  8. Remember that all presenters MUST be a member of the Western Literature Association. You’ll have a chance to renew your membership with your registration. Or renew or join earlier via the WLA website:

Michael K. Johnson and Emily Lutenski

Your WLA Presidents 2018

February 15, 2018

Dear WLA Members:

Greetings from the edge of the West (and the edge of the East), from the gateway city of St. Louis, Missouri, where we are busy with preparations for the Western Literature Association St. Louis 2018 Conference, to be held October 24-27 in the Chase Park Plaza Hotel. The conference theme is “Indigenous Hubs, Gateway Cities, Border States.”

Among the conference highlights that we wanted to mention, Distinguished Achievement Award winners Percival Everett (creative writing) and José E. Limón (criticism) will be present at the conference and will be reading from their work.

Percival Everett is a two-time winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards for Fiction, a recent recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction, and the author of around 30 books, including the parodic genre western God’s Country, as well as multiple books set in the American West, including Suder, Walk Me to the Distance, Watershed, Wounded, Assumption, and his recent short story collection, Half an Inch of Water. No other contemporary African American author has accomplished as extensive (and complex) a representation of African American western experience. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California.

José E. Limón is the Notre Dame Foundation Professor of American Literature Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and the Mody C. Boatright Professor of American Literature Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a distinguished scholar of Mexican American literature and culture in wide-ranging and interdisciplinary work that brings together the study of literature, anthropology, and folklore in studies of literature of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, Greater Mexico, and region and nation more broadly conceived. He is the author of four books, including Dancing with the Devil: Society and Cultural Poetics in Mexican-American South Texas and Américo Paredes: Culture and Critique. He is currently working on a book titled Neither Friends, Nor Strangers: Mexicans and Anglos in the Literary Making of Texas.

We particularly look forward to proposals that engage the literary and critical work and legacies of our two Distinguished Achievement Award winners.

Our deadline for papers, panels, and other session ideas is June 15, 2018. Please see the original CFP and list of proposed themes we’d like to highlight below, but, as always, we welcome proposals on any aspect of the literature and culture of the North American West. 

Proposals should be submitted through the ConfTool link, which will be posted on this page once ConfTool has been set up to receive proposals.

Soon we will be posting a follow-up letter with more information on other conference activities (including possibilities for a Saturday excursion), as well as transportation and hotel information.

Stay tuned!

Michael K. Johnson and Emily Lutenski
Your WLA Presidents 2018


2018 Western Literature Association Conference

Indigenous Hubs, Gateway Cities, Border States

Still on Ponderosa ©Michael Kilfoy

Mural at Ponderosa Steakhouse, W. Florissant Ave., Ferguson, MO. 2014. 6’×8′.
Image courtesy of COCA—Center of Creative Arts. Photo ©Michael Kilfoy.

The 2018 annual conference of the Western Literature Association will take place October 24-27 at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri. “Indigenous Hubs, Gateway Cities, Border States” is derived from this location. This region, at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, has been urban for thousands of years: Cahokia, directly across the river from today’s St. Louis, housed the largest pre-Columbian civilization north of Mexico and was long a hub for trade, communication, and transportation throughout indigenous North America. Today it is well known for its impressive earthen mounds, which the Osage Nation, among other tribal groups, counts as an important ancestral site. Long before St. Louis was known as the “Gateway to the West,” it was nicknamed “Mound City.”

St. Louis would become a North American borderland, shaped by French, Spanish, and U.S. contact and conquest. With Missouri’s 1821 entry into the nation as a slave state, St. Louis became envisioned as a gateway to western freedom even while it maintained southern bondage. This position made it possible for hundreds of enslaved people, including Dred Scott, to attempt to sue for their freedom in St. Louis. During the Exoduster movement, St. Louis indeed became a gateway to freedom for many African Americans migrating away from postbellum southern oppression. An emblem of white flight and urban disinvestment in the 20th century, today St. Louis is home to newer immigrant communities and central to the Black Lives Matter movement. It continues to serve as a microcosm of U.S. racial histories and of both stubborn divisions and promising coalitions across lines of race, class, region, and nation. “Indigenous Hubs, Gateway Cities, Border States” is meant to evoke these confluences and crosscurrents.

Both Distinguished Achievement Award Winners, Percival Everett and José E. Limón, will be attending the conference, and each will give a reading.

We welcome proposals on any aspect of the literatures of the North American West, but especially encourage panels and papers that explore the following topics:

• St. Louis (or other western places) as Indigenous Hubs, Gateways, or Borderlands
• The African American West
• Jazz and Blues and the American West
• The Art and Literature of Black Lives Matter
• St. Louis Freedom Suits
• The Work of Distinguished Achievement Award Winner Percival Everett
• The Critical Legacy of Distinguished Achievement Award Winner José E. Limón

Proposals for panels and roundtable discussions should include an abstract for each paper or presentation. The deadline for submissions is June 15, 2018. Please submit questions to Michael K. Johnson or Emily Lutenski at

For more information, check back periodically.

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Western Literature Association Presidents 1966 to Present

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010


WLA leaders who have served as presidents of the organization and have hosted the annual conference.

NOTE: If you are a past president and you’re not happy with your photo below, please send photos to Sabine Barcatta or by snail mail to Western Literature Association, PO Box 6815, Logan UT 84341. Digital photographs preferred, but printed photos acceptable. (They will be returned after scanning.)


Emily Lutenski—St. Louis, MO

Emily Lutenski, 2018 —St. Louis, MO

Michael K. Johnson

Michael K. Johnson, 2018 — St. Louis, MO

Florence Amamoto, 2017—Minneapolis, MN

Florence Amamoto, 2017—Minneapolis, MN

Sue MaherSue Maher, 2017—Minneapolis, MN

Linda Karell, 2016— Montana State University

Linda Karell, 2016—
Montana State University

Susan Bernardin, 2015 Reno, Nevada

Susan Bernardin, 2015 —Reno, Nevada

David Fenimore, 2015 — Reno, Nevada

David Fenimore, 2015 — Reno, Nevada

Laurie Ricou, 2014 — Victoria, BC, Canada

Laurie Ricou, 2014 — Victoria, BC, Canada

Anne Kaufman, 2014 — Victoria, BC, Canada

Anne Kaufman, 2014 — Victoria, BC, Canada

Richard Hutson, 2013 — Berkeley, California

Richard Hutson, 2013 — Berkeley, California


Sara Spurgeon, 2012 — Lubbock, Texas

Sara Spurgeon, 2012 — Lubbock, Texas

Nancy Cook, 2011 — Missoula, Montana

Nancy Cook, 2011 — Missoula, Montana

Bonney MacDonald, 2011 — Missoula, MontanaBonney MacDonald, 2011 — Missoula, Montana

Gioia Woods, 2010 — Prescott, Arizona

Gioia Woods, 2010 — Prescott, Arizona

David Cremean, 2009 — Spearfish, South Dakota

David Cremean, 2009 — Spearfish, South Dakota

Karen Ramirez, 2008 — Boulder, Colorado

Karen Ramirez, 2008 — Boulder, Colorado

Nic Witschi, 2008 — Boulder, Colorado

Nic Witschi, 2008 — Boulder, Colorado

Ann Putnam, 2007 — Tacoma, Washington

Ann Putnam, 2007 — Tacoma, Washington

Tara Penry, 2006 — Boise, IdahoTara Penry, 2006 — Boise, Idaho William Handley, 2005 — Los Angeles, California

William Handley, 2005 — Los Angeles, California

Susan Kollin, 2004 — Big Sky, MontanaSusan Kollin, 2004 — Big Sky, Montana Krista Comer, 2003 Houston, TexasKrista Comer, 2003 — Houston, Texas Judy Nolte Temple, 2002 — Tucson, ArizonaJudy Nolte Temple, 2002 — Tucson, Arizona  Susan Naramore Maher, 2001 — Omaha, NebraskaSusan Naramore Maher, 2001 — Omaha, Nebraska
Robert Murray Davis, 2000 — Norman, Oklahoma

Robert Murray Davis, 2000 — Norman, Oklahoma

Michael Kowalewski, 1999 — Sacramento, California

Michael Kowalewski, 1999 — Sacramento, California

Robert Thacker, 1998 — Banff, Alberta, Canada

Robert Thacker, 1998 — Banff, Alberta, Canada

Gary Scharnhorst, 1997 — Albuquerque, New MexicoGary Scharnhorst, 1997 — Albuquerque, New Mexico
Susanne K. George Bloomfield, 1996 — Lincoln, NebraskaSusanne K. George Bloomfield, 1996 — Lincoln, Nebraska Laurie Ricou, 1995 — Vancouver, British Columbia, CanadaLaurie Ricou, 1995 — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Stephen Tatum, 1994 — Salt Lake City, UtahStephen Tatum, 1994 — Salt Lake City, Utah  Diane Quantic, 1993 — Wichita, KansasDiane Quantic, 1993 — Wichita, Kansas
Joseph Flora, 1992 — Reno, Nevada

Joseph Flora, 1992 — Reno, Nevada

James Work, 1991 — Estes Park, Colorado

James Work, 1991 — Estes Park, Colorado

Lawrence Clayton, 1990 — Denton, TexasLawrence Clayton, 1990 — Denton, Texas Barbara Meldrum, 1989 — Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Barbara Meldrum, 1989 — Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Glen Love, 1988 — Eugene, OregonGlen Love, 1988 — Eugene, Oregon Susan J. Rosowski, 1987 — Lincoln, NebraskaSusan J. Rosowski, 1987 — Lincoln, Nebraska Tom Pilkington[pictured in the middle, receiving award], 1986 — Durango, ColoradoTom Pilkington[pictured in the middle, receiving award], 1986 — Durango, Colorado Gerald Haslam, 1985 — Fort Worth, TexasGerald Haslam, 1985 — Fort Worth, Texas
Ann Ronald, 1984 — Reno, NevadaAnn Ronald, 1984 — Reno, Nevada  George Day, 1983 — St. Paul, MinnesotaGeorge Day, 1983 — St. Paul, Minnesota Martin Bucco, 1982 — Denver, Colorado

Martin Bucco, 1982 — Denver, Colorado

James Maguire, 1981 — Boise, IdahoJames Maguire, 1981 — Boise, Idaho
Helen Stauffer, 1980 — St. Louis, MissouriHelen Stauffer, 1980 — St. Louis, Missouri Bernice Slote, 1980 — University of Nebraska, LincolnBernice Slote, 1980 — University of Nebraska, Lincoln (courtesy University of Nebraska, Lincoln Archives) Richard Etulain, 1979 — Albuquerque, New MexicoRichard Etulain, 1979 — Albuquerque, New Mexico Mary Washington, 1978 — Park City, UtahMary Washington, 1978 — Park City, Utah
Arthur Huseboe, 1977 — Sioux Falls, South DakotaArthur Huseboe, 1977 — Sioux Falls, South Dakota Lawrence L. Lee, 1976 — Bellingham, WashingtonLawrence L. Lee, 1976 — Bellingham, Washington Maynard Fox 1982Maynard Fox, 1975 —Durango, Colorado John S. Bullen, 1974 — Sonoma, CaliforniaJohn S. Bullen, 1974 — Sonoma, California
Max Westbrook, 1973 — Austin, TexasMax Westbrook, 1973 — Austin, Texas Thomas J. Lyon, 1972 — Jackson Hole, WyomingThomas J. Lyon, 1972 — Jackson Hole, Wyoming  

John R. Milton, 1971 — Red Cloud, NebraskaJohn R. Milton, 1971 — Red Cloud, Nebraska

Don D. Walker, 1970 — Sun Valley, IdahoDon D. Walker, 1970 — Sun Valley, Idaho
Morton L. Ross, 1969 — Provo, UtahMorton L. Ross, 1969 — Provo, Utah Jim L. Fife, 1968 — Colorado Springs, ColoradoJim L. Fife, 1968 — Colorado Springs, CO

Delbert Wylder, 1967 — Albuquerque, NM

Delbert Wylder, 1967 — Albuquerque, NM

C. L. Sonnichsen, 1966 — Salt Lake City, Utah

C. L. Sonnichsen, 1966 — Salt Lake City, Utah


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Past Presidents’ Addresses

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010


At every conference, the past president gives the Past President’s Address. Below you’ll find links to some of them:

1989—Glen Love, “Revaluing Nature: Toward an Ecological Criticism”
1992—James Work, “Who’s Afraid of the Virginian’s Wolf?”
1993—Joseph M. Flora, “An Eastern Dude Rides West—Again
1994—Diane Quantic, “Reimagining the West: A Consideration of the Discipline”
1996—Laurie Ricou, “Extra West”
1997—Susanne George Bloomfield, “Dancing with Our Skeletons: Some Reflections on Time”
1998—Gary Scharnhorst, “In Defense of Western Literary Biography”
1999—Robert Thacker, “Crossing Frontiers, Riding Point”
2001—Robert Murray Davis, “Part-Time Westerner”
2002—Susan Naramore Maher, “When East Meets West: A Tale of Sundry Adventures”
2003—Judy Nolte Temple, “Why in the World Study Diaries: Tales from the Road Less Traveled”
2006—William R. Handley, “An Anatomy of Feeling Western; or, The Good News about Estrangement”
2008—Ann Putnam, “Memory, Desire, and What’s ‘True at First Light’”
2009—Karen Ramirez and Nicolas Witschi, “Western Collaborations X: The Generative Power of Working Together”
2010—David Cremean, “Livin’ in These Badlands: Don’t Fence Me In—or Out”
2011—Gioia Woods, “Reinvent America and the World”
2013—Sara Spurgeon, “Incidentally Western”
2014—Richard Hutson, “Tom Sawyer and the Struggle for Recognition”
2015—17 Past Presidents recounted the WLA’s journey of where it has been and where it is going (no transcript available)
2016—Sacred and Profane West: A Conversation with Stephen Graham Jones, moderated by Susan Bernardin and David Fenimore (no transcript available)
2017—Learning from Legacies: A Conversation with Linda Karell and Kao Kalia Yang (no transcript available)

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Friday, January 1st, 2010


Below you’ll find conference programs from previous years. These are not the absolutely final copies, but they’re as close to final as they were posted at the time. So if you are looking for somebody who was on your panel or a particular paper you heard, this might be helpful. If you have any questions, though, try contacting the person who gave the paper, chaired the panel, etc. The webmaster in this case is not likely to be able to help. In other words, USE AT YOUR OWN RISK and keep any problems with these programs to yourself.

WLA Conference Program 1999 (Sacramento)

Conference Program 2004 (Big Sky, Montana)
Conference Program 2005 (Los Angeles, California) [Word file]
Conference Program 2006 (Boise, Idaho)
Conference Program 2007 (Tacoma, Washington) [Word fiile]
Conference Program 2008 (Boulder, Colorado)
Conference Program 2009 (Spearfish, South Dakota)
Conference Program 2010 (Prescott, Arizona)
Conference Program 2011 (Missoula, Montana)
Conference Program 2012 (Lubbock, Texas)
Conference Program 2013 (Berkeley, California)
Conference Program 2014 (Victoria, British Columbia)
Conference Program 2015 (Reno, Nevada)
Conference Program 2016 (Big Sky, Montana)—this is the final copy, including corrections

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WLA Conference 2019

Friday, June 18th, 2010

54th WLA Conference

Estes Park, Colorado
Sept. 18-21, 2019

THEME: Not Cloudy All Day: Western Climes

Alex HuntThe 2019 Conference will be co-hosted by Professors  Alex Hunt (West Texas A&M) and SueEllen Campbell (Colorado State University). 

SueEllen Campbell











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WLA Conference 2011 Registration

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

46th Annual Western Literature Association Conference
Oct. 5-Oct. 8, 2011
Missoula, MT


First Name:
Last Name:
Mailing Address:
Zip Code:
Home/Cell Phone:
Work Phone:
Check if graduate student in October 2011 Check if undergraduate student in October 2011


(Please note: You must be a member of the WLA at THE TIME OF THE CONFERENCE
to present a paper at the conference. See information on WLA Annual Membership Dues below.)

WLA member

Retired member

Student member

Non-member, not presenting

Guest of member, not presenting *

Whose guest are you?
Name of WLA member if registering as “guest of member”:


* Guest rate is for non-presenting spouses or partners who accompany a registered WLA member, retired member, or student member and wish to attend conference sessions, receptions, and/or meals. Partners who do not plan to attend sessions, receptions, or meals need not register. Two non-members traveling together must each pay the full non-member rate. Two presenters traveling together must each pay the appropriate member rate. Registered partners will receive a name badge and other registration materials. Please use a separate form for each individual.

(includes subscription to Western American Literature)

Presenters and session chairs must be WLA members AT THE TIME OF THE CONFERENCE. If you have questions regarding your membership status, please contact the WAL office.

Regular member $35.00 $50.00 $60.00
Student/Retired $30.00 $45.00 $55.00
Couples $40.00 $55.00 $65.00
Sponsor $75.00 $75.00 $75.00
Patron $100.00 $100.00 $100.00
None. My membership is current through 10/2011. $0


Thur, Oct 6, 12:15–2:00 pm: Past Presidents’ Address Luncheon
(Everyone invited!)
Choose one:
Fri, Oct 7, 7:00-8:00 am: Past Presidents’ Breakfast
(Past Presidents only!)
Fri, Oct 7, 12:15–2:00 pm: Graduate Students’ Luncheon
Fri, Oct 7, 6:30 pm: Banquet (includes awards ceremony and the traditional WLA dance)
Choose one: (a) braised short ribs
(b) balsamic chicken
(c) Northwestern rainbow trout
(d) seasonal vegetarian entrée


Please consider supporting the Louis Owens Awards, WLA’s competitive travel scholarships for graduate students who contribute to the diversity of the WLA conference.

See the award description for more information.

I would like to donate the following amount:

Donate $10

Donate $20

Clear Amount
Owens Contribution


Missoula has numerous hiking and biking trails available for you to enjoy from our beautiful downtown location within a half-block of the Clark Fork River. Maps and a local “What to do in Missoula” Guide will be issued to you at the registration desk. You can contact the following providers below for horseback riding and fishing trip outings:

For horseback riding, please contact Suzanne at
For guided fishing trips and fly-casting lessons, contact Russell via email. (Missoulian Angler will offer $100 off a fully guided trip if you mention the WLA Conference.)

For planning purposes, please indicate your preference for the following:

Horseback Riding
Guided Fishing Trip
Fly-Casting Group Lesson
Rattlesnake Wilderness Hike (gentle)
Rattlesnake Wilderness Hike (strenuous)


A fundraising cocktail party at Nancy Cook’s home, including drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Transportation will be arranged. Money will go to WLA endowments. If you’d like to participate, please donate a minimum of $55.00. If you are contributing to the Presidential Library, please add the amount you would like to donate, then hit “update total”.

I would like to donate the following amount:

If you are unable to attend the conference once you have registered, please send an e-mail to

All cancellations are subject to a processing fee of 20% of your total, if the cancellation is received before September 20. After that date, no refunds can be issued.

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  • Western Literature Association (WLA)

    Founded in 1965, the Western Literature Association (WLA) is a non-profit, scholarly association that promotes the study of the diverse literature and cultures of the North American West, past and present.

  • Western American Literature (WAL)

    (The Journal)

    Published by the Western Literature Association, Western American Literature is the leading journal in western American literary studies.