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B o o k R e v ie w s 3 5 7 One of the difficulties in reconstructing the history of black women’s participation in western settlement is the scarcity of primary sources. The anthology is particularly valuable for the variety of sources uncovered and dis­ cussed: census, court, and church records; oral histories; newspapers; published and unpublished memoirs; and minutes from meetings of black women’s clubs. Of particular interest to literary scholars are the vignettes drawn from these sources and interspersed throughout, including poems, letters, and excerpts from interviews, oral histories, and memoirs. The Open Space of Democracy. By Terry Tempest Williams. Great Barrington, Mass.: Orion Society, 2004. 107 pages, $8.00. Reviewed by Tara Penry Boise State University, Idaho Like so much of Terry Tempest Williams’s work, The Open Space of Democracy is both lyrical and purposeful. “The Arctic is balancing on an immense mirror,” begins the second chapter. “The tundra is shimmering” (28). Such images of balance, fragility, and immensity abound in this slender book, providing layers of literary texture beneath the book’s political purpose—to demonstrate how citizens in a democracy can participate in constructive dialogue across ideologi­ cal differences. Illustrated with paintings by Mary Frank, the book opens by imagining “a figure ... arching over a deep chasm to make contact with a smaller figure ... also stretching across the divide to meet the other” (2). Democracy, Williams argues, requires such stretching from its participants. As in other books, Williams uses her lyrical descriptions of nature to try to move some readers to feel what she feels, to stretch toward her ecological politics. But the primary commitment of this book is to define and demonstrate the sort of communication required in a democracy. The book’s first and third chapters present multiple scenes of such demo­ cratic encounter. In chapter 1, “Commencement,” Williams exchanges respect­ ful letters with a Republican senator after speaking on the theme of civil dis­ obedience in a commencement address delivered one day after George W. Bush proclaimed his “mission accomplished” in Iraq (14). In chapter 3, “Engagement,” Williams and her neighbors in Castle Valley, Utah, collaborate across political differences to achieve the common purpose of saving a local mesa from devel­ opment. Ranging in tone between the idealistic and the pragmatic, these and other examples illustrate the author’s vision ofa “spiritual democracy,” “inspired by our own sense of what we can accomplish together” (87). The book’s second chapter, “Ground Truthing,” supports the author’s belief that any political action must come from firsthand contact with affected lands. Like a scientist who must test her abstractions on the ground, a citizen in a democracy must “walk ... the ground to see for oneself if what one has been 3 5 8 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e F a l l 2 0 0 5 told is true” (28). Spending time in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—a contested space under Bush energy policy—she finds “the literal open space of democracy” (59). The algae and fungi, “working together to break down rock into soil,” represent “a radical form of democracy” (58). And in the understanding that develops among the travelers in their shared experience of wilderness, she sees the literal paradigm for how community can grow in open spaces that move the spirit. Not surprisingly for those who know her prior work, Williams becomes most poetic and stining in her descriptions of the natural world, as when she meditates on the arctic tern’s 22,000-mile migration from pole to pole in search of perennial light or discovers a herd of caribou over a ridge. As a whole, the book will affect readers differently as long as the election of 2004 is remem­ bered with feeling. Explicitly critical of George W. Bush from the first page, it requires some readers to stretch farther than others. But its ideals are lofty, its examples of communication honest, and its prose forceful. Still relevant after the election, the book deserves a place in any library or course on political phi­ losophy...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 357-358
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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