Two weeks ago, I was browsing through a pile of used books and stumbled across a dark-gray volume that said Campbell on the spine, along with University of Oklahoma Press.
“Bing! Bing! Bing!” sounded in my head. I pounced.
Sure enough, Walter S. Campbell authored the book. I’m always on the lookout for anything he’s written because he founded the Professional Writing program on the University of Oklahoma campus in the 1930s; I consider him a literary ancestor; and his photograph hangs on my home office wall.
The book’s subtitle is A Guide to Good Reading. It’s basically a bibliography of books written about the American Southwest, ones that Campbell considered to be worth a reader’s while. Given that by the 1950s Campbell had authored or edited about 27 books, most of them dealing with western subjects, he seemed to be as good an authority as any in his day to pick and choose these selections. I feel certain his authority would stand just as firmly now.
At first glance, I experienced disappointment. A bibliography? Really? Is that all? Once I dived into the book and actually looked at it, however, I realized I held gold in my hands. What an incredible resource.
In the table of contents, past Campbell’s introduction explaining how this project came about and quotes from a few other writers extolling the region’s beauty, the chapters of grouped selections are listed as follows.
BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY: Statesmen and Generals; Writers, Artists, Scientists; Explorers, Travelers, Hunters; Mountain Men, Scouts, Indian Fighters; Soldiers and Army Women; Gunfighters and Outlaws; Marshals and Sheriffs; Texas Rangers; Cattlemen and Cowboys; Captives of the Indians and “White” Indians; Missionaries, Priests, and Reformers; Doctors and Lawyers; Businessmen, Oilmen, Prospectors; Women; Memoirs.
DESCRIPTION & INTERPRETATION: Guidebooks; General; Indians; Spanish-Americans; Cities and Towns; Flora and Fauna; Horses, Cattle, Sheep; Arts and Crafts; Travel; Sport.
DICTIONARIES & LEXICONS:
HISTORY: General History; State History; Campaigns and Expeditions; The Mexican War; Indian Wars; Forts and Missions; Institutions, Industry, Business; Trails and Rivers; Cities.
ORATORY: Political Papers and Forensics; Sermons and Homiletics.
POETRY AND SONG: Anthologies; Individual Poets.
Naturally I possessed strongest interest in seeing what he lists in the chapter on Fiction. Here are some samples:
Aydelotte, Dora. Trumpets Calling. (New York, D. Appleton-Century, 1938.) Early days in Oklahoma. The Run and what followed. A good story with authentic background and color.
Baker, Karle Wilson. Family Style. (New York, Coward-McCann, 1937.) A novel about the oil game as a lady saw it. Manners rather than story or action. Interesting, well made, not very stirring.
Bass, Althea. The Thankful People. (Caldwell, Idaho, the Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1950.) A sympathetic and true-to-life picture of modern Indian life, the story of a little Seneca Indian girl, her family, neighbors, and friends, who try to keep the “long-house-way” in their hearts. Illustrated by Walter Richard West, the Cheyenne painter.
Davis, Anne Pence. The Customer Is Always Right. (New York, Macmillan, 1940.) One of the best Southwestern novels of the past twenty years. The story of a department store, with everything–from the bargain basement up–supplying a brisk Texas city. Good reporting, authentic color, humor, and styled for pleasant readings. An agreeable change from cowboys and gunmen.
You can be sure that next I’ll be hunting for old copies of the Davis and Bass books.
In Chapter 2, Campbell defines the Southwest region as including “West Texas, the western half of Oklahoma, New Mexico, and those parts of Kansas and Colorado which are definitely Southwestern in background and outlook.”
He also writes, “… we have in this Southwest, as so defined, a common sense arising from a common experience of Indian wars, cattle drives, county-seat fights, swift settlement, dust storms, badmen, oil wealth, and an agricultural and pastoral economy now reluctantly accepting industrialization. This common sympathy and way of life extends on the south to the Rio Grande in Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, and to the north somewhat beyond the Arkansas River in Kansas and the old Santa Fe Trail.”
And he adds, “The decision to halt this survey at the western boundary of New Mexico was not mine. Before the committee representing the University of Oklahoma and the Rockefeller Foundation approved my project, I was informed that others would make a similar survey of Arizona and California. Yet this decision, however arbitrary it may seem to some, fits in well enough with my own feeling, interest, and experience, and certainly affords a field quite ample for such a survey.”
Having spent most summers of my youth in southern New Mexico, I can certainly identify with this quote from D. H. Lawrence: “But the moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend. There was a certain magnificance [sic] in the high-up day, a certain eagle-like royalty, so different from the equally pure, equally pristine and lovely morning of Australia, which is so soft, so utterly pure in its softness, and betrayed by green parrot flying. But in the lovely morning of Australia one went into a dream. In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to a new.”
I haven’t been to Australia, but I know the New Mexico sun and its intense blue sky. The land is fierce. It’s stark and wide and relentless. It can kill you if you’re foolish. It can clarify your mind and make you vividly aware of what is important and what is so much clutter or muddle. My experiences there remain among my most cherished memories. I miss it every day. So yes, although I was surprised to find myself sympatico with a writer like D. H. Lawrence, we share at least this one pinpoint of common ground.
Still, this reference of Campbell’s was published in 1952. Isn’t it rather out of date? What good does it do us now?
No doubt, in our modern world and way of thinking, our first reaction might be, what good is an antiquated bibliography when I can just Google up a list. But can you?
Of course you can.
I ran a brief Internet search and came up with a 2016 list compiled by someone named Jessica Pryde. Her geographical definition of the Southwest region includes California, New Mexico, Arizona, the Four Corners area of Utah and Colorado, and just a reluctant smidgen of West Texas. Her list leans heavily on fiction, including speculative, contemporary, thriller, historical, and romance, serving up a mere speck of biography, tossing in a bit of short story and poetry, and adding a few picture books for a diversified spectrum. Authors range from Tony Hillerman to Barbara Kingsolver to Terry McMillan to Paolo Baciagalupi to Elmore Leonard to singer Linda Rondstat. The autobiography of Samuel Holiday, a Navaho Code Talker, looks fascinating. The LEGEND OF PONCIANO GUTIERREZ AND THE MOUNTAIN THIEVES by A. Gabriel Melendez and Amy Cordova is a picture book.
The modern list serves its purpose, of course, especially if I am looking for a few Hispanic authors I might not otherwise discover or a sprinkling of recent fiction set in this region. However, Campbell’s list is much larger and comprehensive in scope. Older, yes, but far more sweeping and extensive, indicating considerable time, thought, and attention paid to the recommendations. Given my training in Professional Writing, I value his commentary and opinions of these works. I know they were not given lightly.
Yep, this resource is like gold in the hand.