Literary Nevada: Writings from the Silver State
Nevada is a state that in the popular mind has not been associated with anything more cultural than mining, gambling, divorce, and nuclear storage. With the publication of Cheryll Glotfelty's Literary Nevada, it is now apparent that this perception is seriously being challenged. This book is an eye-opening surprise in its revelation of the sheer volume of Nevada literature, its variety, and, best of all, its quality.
Its contents range from Native American myths and legends to accounts of the early explorers, immigrants, and miners; to cowboy poetry, contemporary poetry, fiction, travel writing, and nature writing; to impressions of rural life, nuclear Nevada, as well as Las Vegas and Reno. Each category is prefaced by a brief but pithy introduction as are individual author entries. These unusually informative introductions reveal editor Glotfelty's impressive familiarity with her subject and add significantly to the usefulness of the volume. The back matter contains helpful bibliographies for each chapter and also a chronological list of contents that "traces the origins and development of Nevada's literary tradition" (xxx).
The writings of native and "naturalized" Nevadans who have established reputations in literature or history are, of course, represented among the selections—for example, Dan De Quille, Sam Davis, Sarah Winnemucca, Will James, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, members of the Laxalt family, and Sally Zanjani—but so are pieces by non-resident authors with national reputations who had notable experiences in Nevada, such as Mark Twain, Jack London, John Muir, George Stewart, Wallace Stegner, Frank Waters, Arthur Miller, Gary Snyder, Joan Didion, Thomas Sanchez, Ann Zwinger, and John McPhee. In short, this collection has a solid core of proven writing from respected authors.
If there is a shortcoming in this book, it is but the reverse side of a strength-—the sheer volume of material. The editor was faced with a problem that had no simple solution: how to represent the great breadth of a new discovery without succumbing to superficiality. While scholars familiar with the material in each of the thirteen sections of the book might want to see less variety and more examples of the fine literature that they know about from those categories, in the end I think that editor Glotfelty was right in remaining true to her main purpose of declaring and opening up the field of Nevada literature and laying out its main divisions. [End Page 90] She could not possibly have done full justice to each of the categories, so she made sure that she did no injustice to any of them by including filler material. In the final analysis, she put together a collection that indicates depth as well as breadth. It is for the scholars who follow her lead to these exciting new fields to demonstrate just how rich Nevada literature is.
In the best sense of the word, this hefty book is a sampler of what literary fare the state offers. It is obvious that this sampler is also an advertisement for a feast.