Candy Moulton: Reading the West 6-18-12
Last week I was in the company of more than 250 writers of the American West who convened in Albuquerque for the Annual Western Writers of America Convention. Among them were Loren Estleman, winner of the 2012 Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement in literature, multiple Spur Award winners and two younger writers, Adam Jones and Candolin Cook – both students working toward their master’s degrees – who were recognized with Fellowships to help them with their studies and support their writing habit.
A full day of events focused on the Western film markets, with a session devoted to the work of Ol Max Evans, author of “The Rounders” and “The Hi-Lo Country,” books that were both made into motion pictures. “The Rounders,” of course, has become a classic and is available in a 50th Anniversary Edition, which was published by the University of New Mexico Press. If you have not read the book, I encourage you to get a copy.
Each year the Western Writers of America also inducts one of the great writers into the Western Writers Hall of Fame, which is located at the McCracken Research Library at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo. This year’s inductee is Edna Ferber.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist for her 1924 novel “So Big,” Edna Ferber consistently made best-seller lists with titles including “Cimarron” (1929), “Come and Get It” (1935), “Ice Palace” (1958), “Saratoga Trunk” (1941), “Show Boat” (1926), and, of course, “Giant” (1952), which became James Dean’s last film.
She was the top-selling woman writer of the 20th Century who re-imagined the Western genre with wonderful, richly created women characters such as Cimarron’s Sabra Cravat and Giant’s Leslie Lynnton Benedict. Many of her novels were turned into major movies, and she helped turn “Show Boat” into a Broadway musical and then into three film versions. “So Big” was also filmed three times; “Cimarron” was filmed twice. She was so successful she wielded power over Hollywood (getting director approval for the second version of “So Big”), though often clashed with filmmakers.
She wrote of Texas in “Giant”:
“Bigger. Biggest ranch. Biggest steer. Biggest houses. Biggest hat. Biggest state. A mania for bigness. What littleness did it hide? Her eyes were lacklustre as she now surveyed the main street and the side streets that ended in the open prairie.”