English, Department of


Date of this Version

January 2003


Published in Western American Literature 37:4 (Winter 2003), pp. 404-428. Copyright 2003 by the Western Literature Association. Used by permission.


The literary form that dominates writing, and thinking, in the American West is what has become known, definitively, as "the Western." The all-too-familiar narrative describes the advance of Anglo-Saxon pioneers into a primitive and untamed West, spreading the forces of civilization in their wake. A countertradition, however, is prevalent in the Southwest. What we might suitably call "the Southwestern" describes the incursion of an aggressive foreign culture into an already settled region. In this narrative, the conflict is not over how to impose culture and tame and settle the land, but how to protect the culture that already exists and how to preserve the land from the ruthless Anglo pioneers and their descendants. Frank Waters's People of the Valley (1941), John Nichols's The Milagro Beanfield War (1974)) and many of the poems of Jimmy Santiago Baca epitomize this "southwestern" counternarrative.