It seems somehow fitting to have on our Wyoming quarter a man who never lived there. Jack Schaefer, author of Shane and over a dozen more Westerns, was an Oberlin grad and an Eastern newspaperman who fell in love with the Old West but only moved out to New Mexico later in life (and, as far as I can tell, hadn't even set foot in Wyoming when he wrote Shane). Wyoming, as a literary state, seems to exist mostly as an idea in the head of writers from the East: the best-known classic Wyoming book, The Virginian, was written by a friend of Theodore Roosevelt who prepped at St. Paul's [edited per O'Connor's comment below] and had two Harvard degrees, while the best-known modern Wyoming book (or at least story), "Brokeback Mountain," is by a woman who lived in Vermont for decades and moved out to Wyoming a few years before her story first appeared. Unlike Colorado to the south, which Ben Kunkel pointed out has been strangely ignored by novelists except as a site for Armageddon, Wyoming does stand for something in the American literary imagination, but neither has it developed the fertile combination of homegrown and imported storytelling of Montana, to the north.
Here's my three (or, rather, four) for Wyoming:
- Shane by Jack Schaefer: Last year, twenty-three years after the Western Writers of America chose Shane as the greatest Western novel of all time, they chose George Stevens's 1953 adaptation as the greatest Western movie of all time too. I must say I would have liked to have seen how it would have turned out with Schaefer's own pick for his dark leading character, George Raft, instead of Alan Ladd.
- The Virginian by Owen Wister: In an earlier vote, the WWA members chose The Virginian as the greatest Western novel ever. It certainly is the one that started it all.
- Close Range by Annie Proulx: Subverting the Western, or expanding it? Long before Jake and Heath first rode up into the Rockies, "Brokeback Mountain," when I ran across it in The New Yorker, knocked me out like few others I've ever read there. This is the first of three collections of "Wyoming stories" from her so far.
- Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg: I snuck in a fourth here because I was so happy to find a promising book by someone born and bred in the state. (Yes, I know, I could have chosen Lynne Cheney instead.) Spragg's written two novels since, but his debut, a memoir of growing up on a dude ranch near Yellowstone (where no doubt he met many Easterners who had read Owen Wister), is the one that has brought the most passionate responses, at least on our site.