Last Friday the Rocky Mountain News printed its last edition. With the close of the paper, another great books section vanished forever. I sincerely hope that Patti Thorn, the Rocky’s gracious, smart Books Editor finds a new home for her talents soon. I wrote book reviews for the Rocky for over eight years, and read the paper every morning since I was a kid. (I went out on a good note, with a review of the great T.C. Boyle’s latest novel, The Women.) I feel like I lost a friend. The Denver Post picked up a handful of the Rocky’s reporters, but the vast majority of its 200 newsroom employees are out of work, not to mention the many freelancers who wrote for the paper.
Reporter Nancy Mitchell wrote an inside scoop on the Rocky’s demise for Salon this week, ”The Death Throes of My Newspaper.” This economy is really starting to suck. Thankfully, as Thorn wrote in one of her last Rocky columns, a good coping mechanism is to bury your nose in a book.
On a happier note, the Center for the American West honored Montana writer Thomas McGuane with its Wallace Stegner Award last week. Patricia Limerick, the Center’s resident genius, interviewed McGuane about his life, and he proved a worthy raconteur, regaling the crowd with stories about the time he worked on a movie with Marlon Brando, “The Missouri Breaks.” Brando was balking about starring in the film, so the movie’s director convinced a “crooked plumber” to go to Brando’s house and tell him his plumbing needed to be completely redone, a project so big he’d need to make a movie to finance it. McGuane worked on script edits at Brando’s house, as Brando’s yellow-eyed pet wolf sat under the writing desk, looking him over.
McGuane said he settled in Montana by accident. When he had $800 left in his Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford, he found a place to live in Livingston for $28 a month. Women from the welcome wagon came by “in their beehive hairdos” to make him feel at home, and on his son’s first birthday, even though they’d just arrived, people from the community brought presents, such as a pet rabbit, and McGuane thought, “maybe I won’t leave for a while.” He’s been in Montana for 41 years now.
McGuane spoke a bit about the humor that characterizes his writing. He doesn’t like to be considered a satirical writer, rather he strives to achieve the “profound, embedded humor that arises from observation of character.” “Serious comic literature,” he noted, “is essentially fairly painful, yielding its comedy with extreme reluctance.”
McGuane also discussed why he doesn’t like the term “Western literature.” “I’m a big fan of New Jersey literature myself,” he said, “you know, Stephen Crane, Walt Whitman, Bruce Springsteen.” He explained that “there’s just good writing or bad writing.”
Speaking of illustrious Western writers—ahem, I mean just plain writers—I came across this interview with literary agent Binky Urban last week. Urban represents Cormac McCarthy, and she spoke about how he decided to accept Oprah’s request for an interview. Although he doesn’t like to be interviewed, he did it as an act of “generosity,” to benefit the people who had supported him over they years.
Finally, I wanted to mention that Utah writer Amy Irvine, author of the recent memoir Trespass, will be a guest speaker for the Center for the American West on March 11 (Benson Earth Sciences, Room 180, CU Boulder Campus, 7 p.m.). And speaking of Utah writers, next week the University of Utah hosts its annual Wallace Stegner Symposium, from March 6-7. This year Stegner would have celebrated his 100th birthday (he died in a car accident in 1993). Photographer and writer Stephen Trimble is a University of Utah Stegner Fellow who will participate in the conference this year, and he’s keeping a blog of his thoughts on the occasion.