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Introduction

The idea for the Oregon Literature Series, six anthologies of the best Oregon writing, was first proposed to the Oregon Council of Teachers of English (OCTE) in 1988. At that time, OCTE decided to depart from the conventional state literary anthology--a monolithic tome put together by a few academic volunteers and generally intended for libraries and adult readers. Instead, OCTE decided to create six shorter, genre-based anthologies: prose, poetry, autobiography, folk literature, letters and diaries, and short fiction. OCTE would publish a public "Call for Editors," and the most qualified individuals would be hired for their expertise and treated professionally-honoraria, expenses, research assistance, travel, etc. The anthologies would be intended as classroom/reference texts for students and teachers, and as introductory readers for the general public. Books would be designed to be easily held, carried, and read.

Numerous arguments were raised against this innovative proposal--most of them signaling Oregon's 150-year status as a literary colony. No one had ever done this before. Oregon's literature was non-existent. There wasn't much writing of merit. Most scholars and critics have ignored Oregon literature--even in the best histories of Western literature. There's no literary history of Oregon. It will take years to find this work. In Oregon, literature has the least financial support of all the major arts. We had no publisher. It might rain.

Nevertheless, in 1989, Ulrich Hardt and I were appointed by OCTE to complete the Oregon Literature Series. The work began when we signed a publication contract with Oregon State University Press, our first and most important professional collaborator. Next, from a pool of 139 applicants, OCTE chose these editors to discover Oregon's literary heritage: Shannon Applegate, Stephen Dow Beckham, Gordon B. Dodds, Primus St. John, Suzi Jones, Glen A. Love, Terence O Donnell, Jarold Ramsey, and Ingrid Wendt. Appointed in August 1990, those individuals began the search for Oregon writing that eventually spread beyond every corner of the state--from ranch houses to university archives, from oral storytellers in Longhouses to Chinese Miners' letters in museums, from Desdemona Sands to Burns. Some editors traveled thousands of miles. Others corresponded with hundreds of authors. Most read thousands of pages. Poets, historians, folklorists, critics, scholars, teachers, and editors--they all benefited from and shared their research expertise. Even though honoraria were small, editors gave generously of their time. While the editors looked for Oregon writing, Ulrich Hardt and I sought out and received endorsements from many major cultural and arts organizations. Financial support was like rain in the time of drought, but we attracted a few wise, faithful, and generous patrons, as the Acknowledgements record.

Once the editors had discovered this vast, unstudied, and unknown body of writings, they assembled their manuscripts by using the following guidelines--guidelines that required them to choose writing--in its broadest sense--that might reveal the Oregon experience to both students and the public:

  1. The volume must include a representative sample of the best Oregon writing from all periods, regions, occupations, genders, genres and sub-genres, ethnic, religious, political, and cultural backgrounds.
  2. Oregon birth should not be used as a single criterion for inclusion. Oregon residence is important, but no arbitrary length of stay is required for a writer to be included.
  3. Works about experience in Oregon are preferred, but editors are not limited to that criterion alone.
  4. "Oregon" will be defined by its changing historical boundaries--Native American tribal territories, Spanish, Russian, British, U.S. Territory, statehood.
  5. One or more translations and original from non-English languages should be included when appropriate to show that linguistic multiplicity has always been a part of Oregon.
  6. Controversial subjects such as sexism and racism should not be avoided. Multiple versions of events, people, and places should be included when available.
  7. Length of works must vary; limit the number of snippets when possible. Meet the need of diversity in reading, from complex to simple.
  8. New, unknown, or unpublished work should be included.
  9. Works will be edited for clarity but not necessarily for correctness. Editors may invent titles, delete text, and select text as appropriate and with appropriate notation.

Once assembled in draft, most of these manuscripts were two to three times longer than could be published by Oregon State University Press; therefore much fine writing had to be omitted, which all editors and our publisher regret. After being reduced to the requisite size, the manuscripts passed through two separate reviews: first, a different Advisor Board for each volume read and rated all selections; second, the Editorial Board composed of all fellow editors of the Oregon Literature Series read, responded, and eventually voted to adopt the manuscript for publication. At all stages, both ulrich Hardt and I worked closely with editors in may ways: readers, critics, fundraisers, administrators, arbitrators, secretaries, grant writers, researchers, coordinators, pollsters.

Now, we hope that these books will create for Oregon literature a legitimate place in oregon schools and communities, where the best texts that celebrate, invent, evaluate, and illuminate the Oregon condition have been invisible for too long. Here, for the first time, students will have books that actually include writing by Oregonians; and peoples in the state; librarians will be able to recommend the best reading to their patrons; the new reader and the general reader can find answers to the question that has haunted this project like a colonial ghost "Who are Oregon's writers, anyway?"

Let it be known that an Oregon literary canon is forming--rich, diverse, compelling. Here we give this sample of it to you. Let your love of reading and wiring endure.

   George Venn, General Editor
   Grande Rhonde Valley, Oregon, September 1992


Finding Oregon in Short Fiction

Think of the distinction between space and place. As geographer Yi-Fu Tuan describes the two, space is undifferentiated and open, devoid of value and support. Place is distinctive, bounded and known. Place is defined space, space that has been invested with value and identity and meaning through long human participation. For a geographic region such as Oregon, space becomes place when the people of that region have established a memorable relationship to it. One evidence and result of this relationship is art. Literature, poems, stories--these are the imaginative creations of human beings with a sense of themselves in an organized, meaningful territory, a place.

How long does it take to form the kind of imaginative transformation of space into place, out of which literature--stories--can grow? When the first European-American settlers arrived in the Oregon country in the mid-1800s, they found themselves in a region unfamiliar and strange to them, a geography of space. The native people whom the explorers and settlers encountered when they arrived had lived here for thousands of years. As H. L. Davis reminds us, the Wishram village which the first explorers encountered in the Columbia Gorge at the falls had existed much longer than any white settlement in North America. It was old when Europeans founded Saint Augustine or Jamestown or Santa Fe. And other indigenous peoples in the region we now call Oregon--such as the Chinook of the lower Columbia and Willamette Valley, the Tillamook, Alsea, and Coos along the Pacific coast, the Klamath and Modoc to the south, the Northern Paiute of the Great Basin, the Nez Perce and Cayuse of northeastern Oregon, and the Wasco and Warm Springs peoples of the north central region, at least forty distinct tribes in all--were similarly at home in their regions. They had an intimate and well-defined knowledge of the local features of land and weather and plants and animals. For them, Oregon was a place. And because it was a place, it inevitably had a rich literature-- a flourishing oral tradition of storytelling, in this case--which gave the significance of myth to all aspects of their lives. Their existence was meaningful to them because their stories, their myths, made it clear why their homeland was what it was, and why things happened as they did.

These were, it needs to be emphasized, the original Oregonians, and the fact that they practiced a way of living which left the country, after millennia of their occupancy, ecologically healthy and beautiful ought to give us pause. Especially since Oregon has been diminished considerably in both the health and beauty of its land in the scant 160 years or so of white occupancy. The rich trove of oral literature of the original Oregonians was the linguistic record of that tradition. As Jarold Ramsey has shown us in Coyote Was Going There: Indian Literature of the Oregon Country, the natural features of the land, the cycles of the seasons, the migrations of salmon, of game, of the people themselves, were all deeply integrated into a oneness with this place. Although these people had no written language, and thus left no "prose" for us to read, we want to include some examples of native American stories in this anthology to suggest the power of that ancient tradition. Many more will be found in Oregon Folk Literature, a companion volume to this one.

The new European-American inhabitants had no such relationship to the land. If they had a mythology with respect to thisplace, it was, for the early explorers, as George Venn has pointed out, the mythology of the quest, of strangers in a strange land, a reciting of wonders. Later, for the first settlers, Oregon was a latter-day Eden, a place of hope and future promise, once the country and the Indians had been subdued. A new spirit of individualism and aggressive conquest accompanied these settlers, a spirit which opposed the communal oneness with the land that characterized the older native culture.

Still, because it is the nature of all human beings to create meaning and pattern from whatever environment they are placed in, the writers among the early permanent settlers of Oregon began the process of making sense of their new place. In some cases, as with Frederick H. Balch's The Bridge of the Gods and Joaquin Miller's Unwritten History, the recently arrived writers attempted to make some use of the Native American mythology which they found. But more often this heritage was dismissed or forgotten. Thus, in one way or another, the new writers took up the same task which had reached its culmination in the Native American stories of this prehistoric region. That process of storying the land continues today. And through our writers we have come some way toward creating a place--not merely a space--called Oregon.

Just how the space of Oregon becomes the place of Oregon for its new inhabitants is a matter of great interest. Historian Louis Hartz, in his book The Founding of New Societies, has posited a three-part process in the history of societies of colonial origin, like the United States, Canada, and Australia. The historical pattern of the colonists' presence, Hartz says, begins, in the first stage, with the colonial society as ill-defined and imitative, still subservient to the mother country. Space is not yet assimilated into place. This is followed by the second stage, one of a movement for separation and distinctiveness, accompanied by aggressive celebration of local values and scenes. This second stage may be a hundred years or more in arriving, but it encompasses the process by which the new people and the old land gradually come together. The third and final step for the new society is confident autonomy, accompanied by acceptance of international influences. The pattern might be seen to operate in the literature as well as the politics of new societies. And it might apply as well to a region like Oregon, which functioned, in its early days, much like a colony, a far-flung frontier, separated from its mother country by vast and forbidding distances. Oregon, too, had its imitative stage in its literature, as well as its aggressively regional stage, and, in recent times, its stage of entry into the international and multicultural arena.

This pattern, it should be added, ignores some features which are relevant to our interest in the Oregon tradition. For one, there is the presence of the indigenous people and their oral literature, both of which are largely displaced by the newcomers, but which later generations, like our own, will seek to reclaim. A second point of divergence from Hartz's model is the continuing process of immigration, of people who come from elsewhere, but who stay to become Oregonians and, more important, to become Oregon writers. In many cases, the process of rootedness takes place more quickly with these latecomers. One thinks of how such writers as William Stafford and Ursula LeGuin, who came to Oregon after World War II, seem to have found in Oregon a place that they were ready to respond to very quickly, perhaps because of their compatible backgrounds and values.

A final point of Oregon's divergence from the Hartz model might be in the new-found sense, even in our most sophisticated modern and contemporary writers, of the revaluing of region, of a new confidence in a place-conscious literature. The third step of Hartz's process must now make room for an ecological sense of the significance of place. No longer do writers feel that their region is merely something to outgrow, a step on their way to acceptance in the "cultural centers" of New York or Paris. Nowadays, every place is recognized as equally real, and culture does not emanate from a few centers, but flows out from many regions like Oregon. As our consciousness of a threatened planet forces our attention back to the realities of our immediate environment, we find ourselves resisting a life which amounts to only a vast network of interchangeable urban experiences. As Oregon writer William Kittredge has written recently, "There is no more running away to territory. This is it, for most of us. We have no choice but to live in community. If we're lucky we may discover a story that teaches us to abhor our old romance with conquest and possession." In an over-exploited earth, Oregon becomes more and more the place where we must put down new rootholds for our lives.

With these qualifications noted, then, we follow Hartz in arriving at the organization for this anthology. Tales from the Nez Perce, Nehalem Tillamook, Klickitat, and Northern Paiute people represent here the period of the original Oregonians. European-American civilization, in its first, imitative stage, followed, but it was slow to develop. The early explorers, the fur traders, the mountain men, the pioneer diarists, the men and women who founded the new Oregon communities in the 1800s did not write fiction, for the most part. They had little leisure time for that. When Abigail Scott Duniway was trying to compose her 1859 novel, Captain Gray's Company, or Crossing the Plains and Living in Oregon, she lamented, in her introduction to the book, the lack of time which pioneer life afforded a writer, particularly "when a frontier farmer's wife undertakes to write a book, who has to be a lady, nurse, laundress, seamstress, cook and dairy woman by turns, and who attends to all of these duties unaided, save by the occasional assistance of an indulgent husband who has cares enough of his own." The early explorers and pioneers wrote, when they wrote at all, mostly what they saw and experienced. And so new, so strange, so unsettling was all of this that simply to record it seems to have engaged all their creative faculties.

When written literature in the form of stories and novels, poems and plays, did begin to appear in the Oregon country in the latter half of the nineteenth century, it was, as we might expect, for the most part a pallid version of the sort of writing being done in the nation's literary capital, the Northeast. This imitative stage of Hartz's progression is represented in the stories included here by Frances Fuller Victor, Joaquin Miller, Ella Higginson, and Alfred Powers. At this time, our ancestors still were not wholly at home in this place, and so early writers quite naturally paid less attention to the realities of life around them and transposed their materials into the conventions and practices of the dominant culture far to the east. Of the writers represented here, Frances Fuller Victor and Ella Higginson were among the first to begin to break out of this subservience to eastern models and styles. Then, too, Victor and Higginson suggested a feminine version of the western experience, one not of masculine adventure and heroism, but of nurturing family, home, and community. We can see in their work early attempts to use realistic local settings, attempts which were encouraged by regionally conscious new literary magazines of the Pacific coast like The Pacific Monthly. Still, the adherence of these first writers to the conventions of language and genre which they brought with them prevented them from achieving a wholly original interpretation of Oregon life.

The imitative stage hung on for a long time in Oregon, until the mid-1920s, by which time the vigor of the early writers had given way to writing which was genteel and vapid, in one respect, and crassly commercial, in another. Finally, under the influence of nationally prominent critics and writers like H. L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis, the Northwest produced two brash but very talented young writers, H. L. Davis and James Stevens, who broke upon the local scene in 1927. They shocked the region's readers with an outrageously insulting little pamphlet, a satire attacking the feeble poetic twitterers and the literary Babbitts of the region. The pamphlet was entitled Status Rerum (The State of Things), and went on, in free-swinging and highly derogatory style, to call itself "A Manifesto Upon the Present Condition of Northwestern Literature Containing Several ear-Libelous Utterances Upon Persons in the Public Eye." Davis and Stevens named names and generally made things hot for the Northwest's literary establishment who, they claimed, had produced "a vast quantity of bilge, so vast indeed, that the few books which are entitled to respect are totally lost in the general and seemingly interminable avalanche of tripe." Harsh and embarrassing as it was, Status Rerum marked the end of the Emmeline Grangerford (of Huckleberry Finn fame) school of Northwest writing, and the clear advent of the stage of aggressive and self-conscious awareness in Louis Hartz's cultural progression. Reading the stories of the writers of the previous, imitative stage, we find ourselves listening to the diction and sentiments of another century. In the work of Davis and Stevens in the 1920s we hear for the first time the sound and the substance of an indigenous Northwest expression, as Karen Reyes has detailed in her historical study of Oregon writers between the two world wars.

With Davis and Stevens leading the way, along with a strong new regional literary magazine entitled The Frontier, edited by Harold G. Merriam of the University of Montana, the stage of confident regional awareness, the movement toward defined place, was well begun. Writers like Ernest Haycox and Albert Richard Wetjen joined with Davis and Stevens in the new, aggressive school of Oregon fiction, although the tendency of Haycox and Wetjen to write to a commercially successful formula may have weakened their work aesthetically. But Ernest Haycox, who began by writing formulaic cowboy westerns, later shifted toward more realistic regional stories and novels. He seems to have discovered that the myths of popular literature could not create an enduring sense of the Northwest as place. This aggressively regional stage of writing, in its attack upon the genteel tradition, was also aimed at what these writers perceived as the increasing over-refinement of Northwest literature. This feeling is articularly evident in Status Rerum. And it is worth noting that Walt Morey and Beverly Cleary, two of Oregon's most accomplished children's writers, reflect this same desire to put aside the genteel "niceness" of children's stories. Cleary, for example, born into an Oregon farming family in 1916, a generation after Davis and Stevens, pushes beyond the traditional, prim blandness of children's literature for an honest and humorous realism which is much in the spirit of the revolt against sterile gentility.

As Oregon literature began to find its own place, it became evident that the term "Oregon," itself, represents more of a political unity than a strictly regional and ecological one. The state of Oregon is composed of at least two--and as many as half a dozen--distinct geographic regions. H. L. Davis recognized this fact in his 1936 Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, Honey in the Horn. There, he follows his main characters through an Oregon odyssey which encompasses the lush valleys of the Willamette and the other great rivers to the south, the rain-lashed Pacific coastal strip, the steamboating towns along the Columbia, the wheatlands and dry-farming regions east of the Cascades, the high deserts, and the horse and cattle ranchlands of south-central Oregon. As Davis wrote in his essay "Oregon," "It used to be a saying in Oregon that people who lived there could change their whole order of life--climate, scenery, diet, complexions, emotions--even reproductive faculties--by merely moving a couple of hundred miles in any direction inside the state."

Recognizing the diverse mosaic of Oregon's regions, we have, in this volume, tried to select short fiction which represents that range of separate natural entities, from the white-topped surf of the Coast to the green-timbered western valleys and mountains, and to the gray sage country and rolling high deserts beyond the ranges. On the temporal and human scales, the fiction here presents and interprets life in Oregon from the time of the original inhabitants to the present, and from wild settings and pastoral outposts to the scattered small towns and cities to the state's only metropolis, Portland.

Can all of this diversity be made to hang together somehow? Should it? Perhaps these questions are best answered by the writers included under the final group of moderns and contemporaries. The last stage of Hartz's line of progression is said to suggest a mature acceptance of place in the world community. Necessarily this stage implies entering into a critical relationship with our sense of inhabited space. We might think of this as the stage of the examined myth. The arrival of Bernard Malamud in Corvallis in 1949 might serve as a kind of watershed moment for this latest stage of development. If Davis and Stevens had made it possible for Oregon writers to treat the region with honest self-awareness, their successors, like the Jewish outsider from New York, Malamud, or the fantasist Ursula Le Guin, announced that Oregon was open to the wider influences of the spirit. Percival Everett now gives us a sense of the black experience in Oregon, Elizabeth Woody writes of contemporary Oregon Native American life, and Juan Armando Epple portrays the Spanish-speaking exile from South America who now finds himself an Oregonian. And even home-grown products like Ken Kesey, William Kittredge, Molly Gloss, Craig Lesley, and Martha Gies have stretched out the borders of Oregon to include new territories of the imagination. Oregonians like these, not to mention our premier nature writer, Barry Lopez, whose assignments carry him, literally, to the ends of the earth, show us that our writers are now at home not only in their state, but in the world.

Learning to trust and use the region, rather than to apologize for it, is perhaps the most difficult of lessons for the writer of an emerging place. One of the functions of any region's literature is to convey a sense of that place's values to the larger world. Although, in its early stages, regional literature may appear to be a narrow or provincial view of life, it is actually a necessary and vital process, part of the inevitable competition between conflicting value systems by which cultures and civilizations are formed. National identities are only regional identities combined and written large. And it is important to the health of the national culture that individual regions offer alternative and corrective responses in the continuing debate over national character and expression. As Oregon writers and artists have turned space into place, they have helped to generate new values which have contributed to our evolving American identity.

Moreover, in the growing emphasis which we have come to place upon ecological thinking in modern life, it is increasingly important that regional identities come to the fore. Why? Because regional identities are most often formed not from within arbitrary political boundary lines--as may be the case with nations--but within natural and geographic borders, within ecosystems, which must be considered as wholes in order for us to deal with the growing numbers of environmental threats to our health and survival. As thirsty Southwesterners eye Oregon's rivers, and as the salmon spawned in these rivers are decimated on the high seas by drift-netters from across the Pacific, or are wiped out by hydroelectric dams which power our homes and industries, we increasingly come to realize how our region functions, or fails to function, as an ecological system, a whole. Richard Maxwell Brown has pointed out how Joel Garreau's book, The Nine Nations of North America, invited us to rethink the traditional political boundaries of North America along new regional lines, based upon emergent ecological and social forces which often cut across existing national boundaries. The environmental crisis has further encouraged such new awareness of regional identities, particularly in Oregon, with its reputation as an environmental leader among the states. Ecological consciousness seems to be an inevitable consequence of place consciousness. Having taken into our minds and hearts the beauty of Oregon, we recognize our responsibility not to defile it. Thus, though environmentalism is rarely a theme in the stories collected here, the environment is a strong and controlling presence in many of them.

"The world begins here," says the Nez Perce shaman. One of the most important contributions of a regional consciousness is the recognition that all art begins with some kind of particular experience. "All events and experiences are local, somewhere," says William Stafford, "and all human enhancements of events and experiences--which is to say, all the arts--are regional in the sense that they derive from immediate relation to felt life. It is this immediacy that distinguishes art. And paradoxically the more local the feeling in art, the more all people can share it; for that vivid encounter with the stuff of the world is our common ground." Surely there is value for all of us, as Oregonians, in realizing that our own places and peoples are the stuff from which literature is created, no less than Mark Twain's Hannibal or Robert Frost's New England or Willa Cather's Nebraska. Oregon is where we are. The world begins here.

Glen A. Love

University of Oregon


Works Cited

Balch, Frederick H. The Bridge of the Gods: A Romance of Indian Oregon. Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1890.

Brown, Richard Maxwell. "The New Regionalism in America, 1970-1981." In Regionalism and the Pacific Northwest, ed. William G. Robbins, Robert J. Frank, and Richard E. Ross. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1983, pp. 37-96.

Davis, H. L. Honey in the Horn. New York: Harper, 1935.

Davis, H. L. "Oregon" and "A Town in Eastern Oregon." In H. L. Davis, Collected Essays and Short Stories. Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 1986, pp. 23-52.

Duniway, Abigail Scott. Captain Gray's Company, or Crossing the Plains and Living in Oregon. Portland: S. J. McCormick, 1859.

Hartz, Louis. The Founding of New Societies. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1964.

Kittredge, William. Owning It All. St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 1987.

Love, Glen A. "Stemming the Avalanche of Tripe." In H. L. Davis, Collected Essays and Short Stories. Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 1986, pp. 321-40.

----. "Oregon on the Literary Map: Regional Literacy and the Great Tradition." Oregon English Journal, 13:1 (Spring 1991), 3-8.

Miller, Joaquin. Unwritten History: Life Among the Modocs, ed. A. H. Rosenus. Eugene: Orion Press, 1972.

Ramsey, Jarold, ed. Coyote Was Going There: Indian Literature of the Oregon Country. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1977.

Reyes, Karen S. "Finding a New Voice: The Oregon Writing Community Between the Two World Wars." Unpublished Master's Thesis. Portland State University, Department of History, 1986.

Stafford, William. "On Being Local." Northwest Review, 13:3 (1973), 92.

Stevens, James, and H. L. Davis. Status Rerum: A Manifesto upon the Present Condition of Northwestern Literature Containing Several Near-Libelous Utterances upon Persons in the Public Eye. The Dalles, Oregon: privately printed, 1927. Reprinted in H. L. Davis, Collected Essays and Short Stories. Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 1986, pp. 357-66.

Tuan, Yi-Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977.

Venn, George. "Continuity in Northwest Literature." In Northwest Perspectives, ed. Edwin R. Bingham and Glen A. Love. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1979, pp. 98-118.

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