You ask around, and people can’t agree on a quintessential Wyoming writer. And if you can’t identify the literature of a place, you can’t define the place. Authors including CJ Box and Craig Johnson weigh in.
When I first moved to Wyoming, I read Annie Proulx’s Close Range to prepare. I was coming for an MFA in creative writing, so I wanted to read what I thought a real Wyoming writer was: Gritty. Rural. Harsh landscapes, dust-encrusted jeans, an intimate knowledge of rodeo and all its hangers-on. You know, Annie Proulx’s work.
When I arrived in Laramie, though, I quickly learned not to bring her up. She was a carpetbagger, people said. People like your host, Melodie Edwards. She’s from Walden, Colorado.
“When I came along and was writing very Western fiction stories, then I was thrown in with, ‘Oh, well, you must love Annie Proulx,'” Edwards said. She said she felt like writers from the West were being ignored by the publishing industry, so it felt unfair that outsiders could come in and write successfully about things Edwards knows well. Other writers weighed in on whether they believed Annie Proulx was a carpetbagger. Once I started asking people, nobody could agree.
So I started wondering: if no one can decide whether Annie Proulx is a Wyoming writer, then what is a Wyoming writer? “A writer that lives in Wyoming,” said Craig Johnson, author of the bestselling Walt Longmire mystery series. He laughed, and immediately contradicted himself. “But then again…” He could think of several writers he knows who write well about Wyoming who don’t live in the state.
So where do we start? Maybe in a tiny town-a cluster of wooden buildings, really, with no grocery store or stoplight-in the middle of the prairie.
Let’s start there.
Here’s a diverse list of Wyoming writers and books. These works span poetry, short stories, memoir, and novels. There’s something here for everyone:
- CJ Box: his most recent book is The Bitterroots. Or you could start at the beginning: Open Season, the first Joe Pickett novel
- Matt Daly: his debut book of poems, Between Here and Home
- Alyson Hagy: her books about Wyoming include Boleto, Ghosts of Wyoming, and Snow, Ashes
- Craig Johnson: his Longmire mystery series begins with The Cold Dish, and the most recent is Land of Wolves
- Nina McConigley: her book of stories, Cowboys and East Indians
- Mary O’Hara: her classic novel, My Friend Flicka
- Annie Proulx: her iconic book of stories, Close Range. Other Wyoming works include Bad Dirt (stories), Bird Cloud (memoir), and Fine Just the Way It Is (stories).
- Owen Wister: his novel that started it all, The Virginian
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