In literary and cinematic representations, deserts often betoken collapse and dystopia. Reading Aridity in Western American Literature offers readings of literature set in the American Southwest from ecocritical and new materialist perspectives. This book explores the diverse epistemologies, histories, relationships, futures, and possibilities that emerge from the representation of American deserts in fiction, film, and literary art, and traces the social, cultural, economic, and biotic narratives that foreground deserts, prompting us to reconsider new, provocative modes of human/nonhuman engagement in arid ecogeographies.
Jada Ach is a lecturer for the leadership and integrative studies program at Arizona State University.
Gary Reger is Hobart professor of classical languages at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
Foreword: Desertification by Tom Lynch
Introduction: The Dry Time by Jada Ach and Gary Reger
Part I: Eco-Identities and Environmental Belonging in Arid America
Chapter 1: Imagined Deserts, Planned Communities, and Escape Pods in the American West by Amy T. Hamilton
Chapter 2: Aridity, Individualism, and Paradox in Elmer Kelton’s The Time it Never Rained by Quinn Grover
Chapter 3: Desert Haunting: A Gothic Reading of Arturo Islas’ The Rain God by Cordelia Barrera
Chapter 4: Imagining the Southwest in Willa Cather’s Frontier Novels: Settler Colonialism in The Song of the Lark, The Professor’s House, and Death Comes for the Archbishop by Zachary R. Hernandez
Part II: Desert Remains: Roads, Dams, and Discarded Pianos
Chapter 5: Desert Roads, “Construction Men,” and Infrastructural Impulses in Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House by Jada Ach
Chapter 6: “It was the river”: Indigenous Anti-Dam Literature of the Great American Desert by Holly Jean Richard and Paul Formisano
Chapter 7: The Desert as Dumping Ground in Popular Imagination by Jennifer Dawes
Part III: Envisioning the Desert from Outside the West
Chapter 8: Trinitite, Turquoise, and Rattlesnakes: Envisioning the (De)Nuclearized Desert in the Works of Leslie Marmon Silko and Kyoko Hayashi by Kyoko Matsunaga
Chapter 9: Color, Place, and Memory in Silko’s Gardens in the Dunes by Celina Osuna
Chapter 10: French Travelers in the Arid Southwest by Gary Reger
Conclusion: Desert Dwelling by Ron Broglio
About the Contributors
Rich, varied, and deeply engaged, this volume does urgent and exciting work, illuminating the desert West’s cultural and ecological complexity, revealing the environmental costs of its colonization and settlement, and offering creative strategies for promoting environmental awareness. An essential contribution to the fields of Western American and ecocritical literary studies.
‘Reading aridity,’ in this impressive volume, means reading desert-related texts to improve our understanding and appreciation of the cultural and ecological dimensions of the dry regions of the American West, demonstrating how careful attention to desert texts and desert ecologies brings this pulsating life into meaningful focus.
This timely and important book grabs us by the shoulders and turns our faces toward aridity and toward desert landscapes in the American West that are ancient, richly diverse ecosystems. Sharply written and beautifully edited, this book is a haunting, illuminating look at how we live with and write about landscapes that are the opposite of the color green.
Reading Aridity in Western American Literature offers multiple new ways of thinking about deserts and our responsibilities to them. And this fine, well-written collection is a pleasure for anyone to read.