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A writerly window on the West

April 26, 2009 |  2:45 pm


Take four writers from the western U.S., place them in Los Angeles and get them talking about their latest books -- all set in this loosely defined geographic and ideological area called "the West" -- and what do you get? A panel on regional literature? Maybe not.

"We're trying to use our backyards to tell American tales," author Mark Arax (co-author of "The King of California") explained at a Book Festival panel today. He referenced his own work with marijuana farmers in a particular corner of Northern California. "That's a story that could only take place in Humboldt County." His latest book, "West of the West," is a collection of these "encounters on the land," stories that are uniquely Californian while illustrating a generally American landscape. "The DNA of America is the West, really," Arax said.

Deanne Stillman agreed.

Stillman's book, "Mustangs," tells the story of those animals that personify the rugged personality of the West. She pointed to the name of the iconic car, the Ford Mustang, as proof of that connection. The car, she said, was named after the animal to evoke that strong individualism of the western frontier, "that wide-open spaces, it's a free country, I can do what I want ... kind of feeling."

"The place becomes a character," Arax explained.  But that character, surely, is an American character.

-- Stephanie Harnett

Photo credit: Mark Boster