- Winifred Sanford: The Life and Times of a Texas Writer by Betty Holland Wiesepape
Winifred Sanford was a young talented writer whose short stories garnered attention and praise from publishers and literary critics. However, after only fourteen published short stories, Sanford inexplicitly ceased her writing career. The mystery of why Winifred Sanford ended her promising endeavors so abruptly and the environments that fueled her desire to write are the center of Betty Holland Wiese-pape’s Winifred Sanford: The Life and Times of a Texas Writer.
Wiesepape’s book is the only biography to date of Winifred Sanford’s personal and professional life. Her study looks closely at Sanford’s relationships with her family, husband, and editor H. L. Mencken, and how these relationships shaped and contributed to her process and the product—work that is highly rooted in her regional backgrounds of Minnesota and Texas.
Sanford’s interest in writing began in Duluth, Minnesota, where Wiesepape says the young Sanford was both comfortable and engaged in a community filled with people from differing cultural backgrounds. Wiesepape claims that these early years in Duluth had major influences on many of Sanford’s short stories, including “Wreck,” a story about a shipwreck on Lake Superior. Similarly, Wiesepape claims that Sanford’s life in Texas, where she relocated so that her husband could join in the booming oil business, played a pivotal role in her writing.
Sanford was one of the earliest writers to consider the oil industry in Texas a subject worthy of fiction. Wiesepape emphasizes, “At a time when arbitrators of Texas culture were engaged in an ongoing debate about what characteristics should define southwestern literature, Winifred Sanford was quietly producing stories that featured characters modeled upon contemporary Texas residents.” Sanford saw value in writing about the families and workers of these areas. Her characters are grounded in reality, tinged with irony, and her writing focused on regional issues. Sanford’s short stories quickly became favorites of H. L. Mencken of the American Mercury and were consistently published by the highly critical editor.
Wiesepape relies mostly on letters exchanged between the author and her family, friends, and editors to reconstruct the nearly forgotten writer’s personal and professional history. Wiesepape’s methodology in bridging Sanford’s private and public life proves to be highly effective, as she leaves few gaps in Sanford’s life unaccounted for. Also included in the book is an appendix containing the letters exchanged between Sanford and the editors of the American Mercury, as well as two unpublished short stories. Overall, Wiesepape’s text is a successful study of the life and literary career of Winifred Sanford. [End Page 187]
Texas Tech University