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“D i s c o v e r i n g ” N e w T a l e n t : C h a r l e s F. L u m m i s ’s C o n f l i c t e d M e n t o r s h i p o f S u i S i n F a r , S h a r l o t H a l l , a n d M a r y A u s t i n J o e S t a p l e s I wish “awfully” I could read you my big story— it’s not so very long but it should be published all at once to have its effect— but I think I shall have to send it for sale somewhere else, because just now the cash would come very handy. Schools, you know, are very expensive, and we are a long way from the best ones. —Mary Hallock Foote to Charles Lummis, April 2, 1898 Mary Hallock Foote’s apologetic letter to Charles Lummis pinpoints the greatest difficulty he faced in his ten-year role as editor of Out West, billed as the first literary magazine of the Southwest: he simply could not afford to pay the rates that top talent drew and thus could not consistently publish the best western work.1 One of Lummis’s primary ambitions for Out West was to discover and bring to light new western talent. Charlotte Perkins Stetson (later Gilman) wrote him that her col­ leagues told her she could have gotten more for her poem “Their Grass” published in the July 1897 number. Other important western writers of the day are conspicuous for their absence from the magazine or for the small number of their contributions.2 After all, when one story in The Atlantic could command four hundred dollars or more, why sell it to Out West for ten? But through his efforts to find and bring out new western talent, Lummis stumbled upon a solution to this problem: if top talent could not be lured, perhaps it could be grown. When he assumed the editorship in 1895, Lummis declared his intentions to “seek and encour­ age all competent Western work” and to “discover new writers who are worth while” and at the same time to “welcom[e] successful and famous ones.” He took to the task of discovery with zeal and the list of writers and artists he helped and encouraged is long. It includes Mary Austin, L. Maynard Dixon, William Keith, Alex Harmer, Ed Borein, Sharlot Hall, Eugene M. Rhodes, Sui Sin Far, Charlotte Perkins Stetson, and Margaret Collier Graham.3 This essay explores Lummis’s relationships with some of these fig­ ures to show the ways in which he exerted his influence and some of the possible effects of his early encouragement on their works and lives. 1 7 6 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e S u m m e r 2 0 0 5 The influence was reciprocal, however, for the women writers who are the subjects of this study were adept in their interaction with Lummis, who was an overbearing and presumptuous mentor. I begin with Sui Sin Far, but Mary Austin and Sharlot Hall are the primary case studies in this investigation, for while he had an acknowledged impact on many, the archival record is more complete for these two, and their correspon­ dence shows that Lummis played a defining role in their lives and work. In each case where he sought to help aspiring writers, his most signifi­ cant contribution was perhaps simply to provide a space in which their early, often immature expressions were recognized and valued. Because of this early recognition, Hall, Austin, Sui Sin Far, Rhodes, and others went on to become important figures in western American culture and to do more mature work than they published in Out West. This is not to suggest that without Lummis’s help, they never would have published. Rather, it speaks to the degree to which...


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pp. 175-205
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