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Mary Austin (1868-1934)—eccentric, independent, and unstoppable—was twenty years old when her mother moved the family west. Austin's first look at her new home, glimpsed from California's Tejon Pass, reset the course of her life, “changed her horizons and marked the beginning of her understanding, not only about who she was, but where she needed to be.” At a time when Frederick Jackson Turner had announced the closing of the frontier, Mary Austin became the voice of the American West. In 1903, she published her first book, The Land of Little Rain, a wholly original look at the West's desert and its ethnically diverse peoples. Defined in a sense by the places she lived, Austin also defined the places themselves, whether Bishop, in the Sierra Nevada, Carmel, with its itinerant community of western writers, or Santa Fe, where she lived the last ten years of her life. By the time of her death in 1934, Austin had published over thirty books and counted as friends the leading literary and artistic lights of her day.
In this rich new biography, Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson explore Austin's life and achievement with unprecedented resonance, depth, and understanding. By focusing on one extraordinary woman's life, Mary Austin and the American West tells the larger story of the emerging importance of California and the Southwest to the American consciousness.
preface / i x
chronology of mary austin’s life and work / x i i i
1 / Desert Places: 1868–1892 / 1
2 / Owens Valley: 1892–1900 / 1 4
3 / Independence: 1900–1905 / 4 8
4 / Carmel: 1904–1907 / 6 9
5 / In Italy and England: 1907–1910 / 9 3
6 / New York: 1911–1914 / 1 1 9
7 / The Village: 1914–1920 / 1 4 5
8 / The Call of the West: 1920–1924 / 1 7 2
9 / Santa Fe: 1924–1929 / 1 9 8
10 / Indian Detours and Spanish Arts / 2 1 8
11 / Last Years: 1929–1934 / 2 3 9
12 / The Accounting / 2 6 4
notes / 2 7 3
index / 0 0 0
Susan Goodman is the H. Fletcher Brown Chair of Humanities Professor of English at the University of Delaware. Carl Dawson is Professor of English at the University of Delaware. Goodman and Dawson are the coauthors of William Dean Howells: A Writer's Life (UC Press).
“This rich, engaging biography explores the complexity of Austin’s life in all the detail it so richly deserves.”—Ashley M. Biggers New Mexico Magazine
“A much needed reconsideration of the vagabond life and influential achievements of Mary Austin. . . . Finding the perfect balance between fact and analysis, the authors cover the full spectrum of ordeals and triumphs weathered by this original and audacious Illinois-raised writer . . . a fast-flowing, deeply involving portrait of an exalted and indefatigable artist and advocate for the dispossessed and the good earth.”—Donna Seaman Booklist
“Goodman and Dawson's judicious biography makes a worthy contribution to our understanding of the literary West.”—Peter Richardson Los Angeles Times Book Review
“This well-researched book is recommended for larger academic libraries and collections on Southwestern American history and culture.”—Erica Swenson Danowitz Library Journal
"Finally, a book that does Mary Austin justice in all her complexity and takes her seriously as a challenging and varied writer."—Melody Graulich, coeditor of Exploring Lost Borders
"A wonderful wide-angle view of an era in the American West and its literary, artistic, and anthropological figures."—Robert D. Richardson Jr., author of Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind