What Wildness Is This: Women Write about the Southwest


How do women experience the vast, arid, rugged land of the American Southwest? The Story Circle Network, a national organization dedicated to helping women write about their lives, posed this question, and nearly three hundred women responded with original pieces of writing that told true and meaningful stories of their personal experiences of the land. From this deep reservoir of writing—as well as from previously published work by writers including Joy Harjo, Denise Chávez, Diane Ackerman, Naomi Shihab Nye, ...

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How do women experience the vast, arid, rugged land of the American Southwest? The Story Circle Network, a national organization dedicated to helping women write about their lives, posed this question, and nearly three hundred women responded with original pieces of writing that told true and meaningful stories of their personal experiences of the land. From this deep reservoir of writing—as well as from previously published work by writers including Joy Harjo, Denise Chávez, Diane Ackerman, Naomi Shihab Nye, Leslie Marmon Silko, Gloria Anzaldua, Terry Tempest Williams, and Barbara Kingsolver—the editors of this book have drawn nearly a hundred pieces that witness both to the ever-changing, ever-mysterious life of the natural world and to the vivid, creative, evolving lives of women interacting with it.

Through prose, poetry, creative nonfiction, and memoir, the women in this anthology explore both the outer landscape of the Southwest and their own inner landscapes as women living on the land—the congruence of where they are and who they are. The editors have grouped the writings around eight evocative themes:

  • The way we live on the land
  • Our journeys through the land
  • Nature in cities
  • Nature at risk
  • Nature that sustains us
  • Our memories of the land
  • Our kinship with the animal world
  • What we leave on the land when we are gone

From the Gulf Coast of Texas to the Pacific Coast of California, and from the southern borderlands to the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, these intimate portraits of women's lives on the land powerfully demonstrate that nature writing is no longer the exclusive domain of men, that women bring unique and transformative perspectives to this genre.

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Editorial Reviews

El Paso Times
What Wildness Is This is a fitting tribute to the rugged complexity of the Southwest from the pens of a diverse group of women writers.
— Daniel A. Olivas
El Paso Times - Daniel A. Olivas
What Wildness Is This is a fitting tribute to the rugged complexity of the Southwest from the pens of a diverse group of women writers.
Library Journal

From western Oklahoma and Texas through the deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California, the wilderness of the Southwest is explored in brief contributions by more than 90 women authors. The Story Circle Network, a national organization that encourages women to write about their lives, solicited personal experiences related to this difficult land. The selected responses are here augmented by previously published work by such writers as Barbara Kingsolver and Leslie Marmon Silko. Through poetry, memoir, and prose, each of the contributors tells of her relation to the land, to the animals that live there, and to her own ancestors. The simple and the unspoiled are celebrated, mostly via family experiences of the early 20th century, and the loss of much primitive landscape and hardscrabble life is a predominant theme (e.g., the revelation that a grandmother famed for her dumplings had been using canned biscuits for some time was an atypical but enjoyable moment). A great introductory volume to a land, people, and ecology too often ignored and flown over in our bicoastal literary world, as well as a showcase for a variety of writing techniques embodying a land and a way of life; for general and specialized collections.
—Shelley Cox

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780292716308
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2007
  • Series: Southwestern Writers Collection Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Wittig Albert
SUSAN WITTIG ALBERT is the founder and past president of the Story Circle Network. She lives near Austin, Texas.

SUSAN HANSON teaches in the English Department at Texas State University–San Marcos.

JAN EPTON SEALE is a poet and fiction writer in McAllen, Texas.

PAULA STALLINGS YOST, founder of LifeSketches/Heirloom Memoirs, is a personal historian and publisher in Yantis, Texas, near Dallas.


Susan Wittig Albert grew up on a farm in Illinois and earned her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. A former professor of English and a university administrator and vice president, she now lives with her husband, Bill, in the country outside of Austin, Texas. In addition to the China Bayles mysteries, she writes the Victorian Mysteries series, along with her husband, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Books, LTD.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview with Albert, she revealed some fun facts about herself:

"My first job was selling ladies' undies at Woolworth's for 35 cents an hour in Danville, Illinois."

I learned to garden from my mother, who thought that the most important thing you did every spring was to plant the potatoes. I learned to read from my father, who never planted a potato in his life. Somehow, I managed to create a life and make a living between these two extremes. Happily, I haven't had to go back to selling undies. Not yet, anyway."

"I love living in the country with Bill, two black Labs, and a black cat. I'd rather read a book or write one than do just about anything else in the world, except maybe for gardening and sitting in a bathtub full of hot, hot water and bubbles. Or knitting, spinning, weaving, dyeing -- I'm a fiber-arts fanatic."

"You can find out what I'm doing today (or what I did yesterday) by checking out my web log, at susanalbert.typepad.com/lifescapes (but there's no web cam, so don't look for me in the bathtub)."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Robin Paige
    1. Date of Birth:
    2. Place of Birth:
      Danville, Illinois
    1. Education:
      Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley

Table of Contents

Foreword by Kathleen Dean Moore
Editor's Note by Susan Wittig Albert

A Land Full of Stories

Laura Girardeau, Easter, Picacho Peak
Cindy Bellinger, This Land on My Face
Gloria Vando, HE 2-104: A True Planetary Nebula in the Making
Linda Hogan, Dwellings
Joanne Smith, Seasons of a Hermit
Jan Seale, Palapa
Luci Tapahonso, A Song for the Direction of North
Luci Tapahonso, Tsaile April Nights
Judith Ann Isaacs, The Land's Song
Donna Marie Miller, Mexican Sunflowers
Ann Woodin, Spring in the Desert
Ann Zwinger, First Snowfall

Geographies: Journey Notes

Sandra Lynn, Geographies
Susan Hanson, The Act of Attention
Judith Strasser, Contemplating Quantum Mechanics One Morning at the Rio Grande Gorge
Judith Strasser, Yom Kippur Fast in Taos
Susan Zwinger, Coming of Age in the Grand Canyon
Linda Elizabeth Peterson, Into the Escalante
Patricia Wellingham-Jones, On the Lip of the Rio Grande Gorge
Linda Joy Myers, Songs of the Plains
Mary E. Young, View from a Hot Air Balloon
Liza Porter, She Could
Susan J. Tweit, Riding the River Home
Denise Chávez, Four Meditations on the Colorado River
Lianne Elizabeth Mercer, Sunrise
Diane Ackerman, Working on the Tequesquite
Pat Ellis Taylor, Indian Hot Springs
Laura Girardeau, Natural Bridges
Nancy Mairs, Writing West
Mary Sojourner, Closing

Home Address: The Nature of Urban Life

Naomi Shihab Nye, Home Address
Judith E. Bowen, Mowing
Sandra S. Smith, Madrugadora/Early Riser
SueEllen Campbell, The World Is a Nest
Connie Spittler, One Scarlet Penstemon
Pat Mora, Voces del Jardín
Lisa Shirah-Hiers, Spinning Water into Gold
Sybil Estess, Sunset on the Bayou
Leslie Marmon Silko, The People and the Land ARE Inseparable
Janice Emily Bowers, A Full Life in a Small Place
Jan Jarboe Russell, Into the Woods

Earth Is an Island: Nature at Risk

Ceiridwen Terrill, Islands
Margo Tamez, My Mother Returns to Calaboz
Nancy Ellis Taylor, Condor Country/New Year's Eve
Julia Gibson, Coyote Mountain
Carol Coffee Reposa, In Parida Cave
Hallie Crawford Stillwell, Drought
Nancy Linnon, Surviving: What the Desert Teaches Me
Gloria Anzaldúa, El Retorno
Patricia Wellingham-Jones, Sacrifice to Progress
P. J. Pierce, The Pond

The Sustaining Land

Teresa Jordan, Sustenance
Joan Shaddox Isom, Gathering at the River
Margo Tamez, The Collection
Sandra Ramos O'Briant, Chile Tales: The Green Addiction
Sandra Lynn, Poem in Which I Give You a Canyon
Patricia Nordyke Pando, Dumplings Come to Town
Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, Wish List
Wendy Rose, Lost Copper
Ellen Meloy, Think Not of a Tectonic Plate but of a Sumptuous Feast

The Key Is in Remembering: Growing Up on the Land

Paula Gunn Allen, The Trick Is Consciousness
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie
Davi Walders, Jewish Oil Brat
Davi Walders, Big Spring, Fifty Years After
Janie Fried, Okarche, 1961
Mary Bryan Stafford, Blowout
Rebecca Balcárcel, Crepe Myrtles
Jackie Woolley, Belonging Place
Leslie Marmon Silko, "Not You," He Said
Joyce Sequichie Hifler, The Hills of Summer
Paula Stallings Yost, Mercury Risin'

Eagle Inside Us

Joy Harjo, Eagle Poem
Kathleen Dean Moore, Alamo Canyon Creek
Margo Tamez, On the Wing
Margo Tamez, Hummingbirds Compete for the Tobacco Tree
Marie Unini, The Raven
Joy Harjo, Fishing
Penelope Moffet, Leavening
Terry Tempest Williams, Water
Pattiann Rogers, A Passing
Ellen Meloy, My Animal Life
Penelope Moffet, Presence
Kelly Tighe, Snake
Carol Fox, Working Cattle
Pattiann Rogers, Knot
Nancy Owen Nelson, Coyote Love Music
Sybil Estess, Mastodon Teeth
Alison Hawthorne Deming, Monarchs
Alison Hawthorne Deming, Sleep, Monarchs, rising and falling

What We Leave Behind

Joy Kennedy, What We Leave Behind
Susan Cummins Miller, The Bone-Man's Apprentice
Kathryn Wilder, Stones and Jawbones
Beth Paulson, Ashes
Lisa Swanstrom, Land of the Gaping Mouths
Lianne Elizabeth Mercer, Lament at Dusk
Erica Olsen, Trail Guide
Deborah K. Wilson, Light on the Water
Sharman Apt Russell, When the Land Was Young
Barbara Kingsolver, Not Long Ago
Lianne Elizabeth Mercer, How to Climb

About the Contributors
About the Editors
About the Story Circle Network
Permissions Credits

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