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374 Western American Literature Simon Ortiz. By Andrew Wiget. (Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Western Writers Series #74, 1986. 53 pages, $2.95.) John Nichols. By Peter Wild. (Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Western Writers Series #75. 1986, 52 pages, $2.95.) They did a good job, Andrew Wiget with Simon Ortiz and Peter Wild with John Nichols. And it is not easy to say something worthwhile about all of an author’s works in only forty-seven or so pages. Here we have Southwesterners writing about Southwesterners, the four spread from Taos to Tucson. Wiget and Wild know first hand the problems of the area and ably discuss their respective writers’ political stances. Nichols, born in 1940, and Ortiz, born in 1941, both coming to maturity in the sixties, are described as writers who see the wrongs of today, see the mistreatment of the native New Mexican, both Indian and Chicano, see the destruction of the environment, and are described as overtly opposing those wrongs in their writing. But Wild suggests that Nichols provides no solution to the problems he presents and that his stories are “more hilarious than politically moving” (40). He says also, “Nichols has put so much sugar on the medicine that the dose doesn’t take. As a result, and most likely to his chagrin, Nichols entertains more than he converts” (46). Wiget says that Ortiz is “unabashedly political” (49) and quotes Ortiz as saying, “Native American poets who speak from a tradition of resistance against oppression are speaking for land and life; their poems, personal and social, are political” (17). In fact one of the more interesting elements of Wiget’s book is the reporting and discussion of Ortiz’s beliefs about aesthetics, politics, and culture, particularly the emphasis on oral storytelling. Wiget sums up the work of Ortiz, “It is not about a race that is vanishing, a way of life that is passing, or a language that is dying, but about a nation of those who have preserved their humor, their love for the land that is their mother, and their sense of themselves as a distinctive people. It is about jour­ neying, about survival, about the many significances of being a veteran” (49). And Wild sums up the work of Nichols, “John Nichols has made his own kind of bizarre sense. Like John Steinbeck, he has succeeded in showing the human­ ity of one downtrodden group of Westerners, but not so much by tugging at our empathy as at our funny bones” (46). Given the format, Wild and Wiget do a thorough job of leading up to these conclusions. DICK HEABERLIN Southwest Texas State University Willa Cather: Writing at the Frontier. By Jamie Ambrose. (Oxford: Berg Publishers Limited, 1988; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. 173 pages, $24.95.) Jamie Ambrose’s brief biography is graceful, absorbing, and generally accurate as it traces the interrelationship of Cather’s life and art. Although the account is not based on original research, Ambrose skillfully distills her prin­ cipal sources: the memoirs of Edith Lewis and Elizabeth Sergeant, the biog­ Reviews 375 raphies of E. K. Brown and James Woodress, and the scholarship of Mildred Bennett and Bernice Slote. Ambrose describes her approach as personal, rooted in the sympathy which she, an aspiring young writer born in the South and transplanted to an unfamiliar world, feels for the artist who underwent similar experiences before becoming one of the most successful American women of letters. Ambrose is particularly sensitive to the challenges facing the female artist, yet her work lacks the high coloring of an appreciation, reflecting instead the influence of previous scholarship. The biography correctly identifies the critical settings and turning points of Gather’s life, but occasionally Ambrose leaves an emphasis undeveloped, or a possible source unacknowledged. She suggests that earlier biographers have slighted the significance of the first years in historic Virginia, and she hints at the importance of Cather’s relationship with her mother, a cultivated Southern lady. However, in the few pages allotted to the early years, Ambrose barely suggests the importance of influences which Sharon O’Brien closely examines in Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice. Although in her...


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pp. 374-375
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