Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What Is A Western Writer?

By Jory Sherman

We are the long-stilled voices of your ancestors speaking from the past. We are echoes of those who were already here in the New World and those who came after and settled these now United States. We are the Native Americans who roamed the West, first on foot, and later on horseback. We are the explorers, the fur trappers and traders, the soldiers, the men and women who rode in wagons across the Great Plains and left our bones on silent prairies and in frozen mountain keeps.

We are the people with long memories who sat by lonesome campfires and listened to the stories told under the stars. We are the ones who first saw the greatness of the land and the mingling of peoples, who found the gold and the timber and the oil, who saw life and death and greed and avarice and theft and slaughter. We are those who remind you of who you are, where you came from and where you are going.

We are your conscience and your guilt. We are those who surveyed the unnamed places and put names and measurements to towns and cities and rivers and streams and mountains and valleys. We are those who followed the buffalo and the eagle, who first spoke to the Redman in sign language and died on trackless plains with dreams in our hearts and prayers on our lips.

We are the chroniclers of those times when our nation was raw and young and untamed and restless and without boundaries. We are the voices of all who came westward and we speak to those now living and to those who will come after and wonder what the land was like, and who the people were and what happened over the centuries of blood and violence and progress.

We are those who paint pictures with words, who relate the forgotten stories, who look into the dark caves and light a torch so that all may see what lies inside and beyond.

We are those who live part of our lives in the past and ride a horse called History and who bring life to everything and everyone who died on the westward trek.

We are who you really are if you will but look in your hearts and wonder. We come from everywhere and come in all sizes and shapes. We are people born of another time and place who inscribe our stories in your hearts. We are those who write down the names on tombstones and mark the olden trails so that you who read us might trace the steps of your fathers and mothers, your grandfathers and grandmothers, your great grandfathers and great grandmothers and see what they saw and wrote down in their diaries and told their children who told their children who then told us.

We are the observers of both fate and destiny; the alchemists who transform the lead of the past into the gold of the future. We are the bearers of tidings, both ill and good. We are the keepers of the flame who refuse to let the old campfires die out.

We are those who write down what we see and hear and feel, taste and touch so that all may know what the West really was and what it means to all future generations. We are those who never die, who live as long as words are spoken and ears will hear. We are those who see through the mists of time and walk through the valleys of shadows and wander the long prairies of memory so that you will know that we passed by all those places that are now paved over and gouged out and dammed up and slashed down and scarred and vacant of all former life, where the old footprints have been obliterated.

We are those now called Western writers and we are proud to carry the label. We still ride the West on a horse called History, singing our old songs and telling the grand stories of yesteryear.


  1. That is a beautiful piece of writing.

  2. This is a wonderful essay, Jory. Much food for thought. Thanks.


  3. Fine piece of writing in my estimation and reason enough there to keep on writing about the West for ourselves and those coming.

  4. Thank you for sharing about this blog, Jory, and what an inspiration your introductory piece is. I hope to write officially one day and there is so much color in your words that I want to start--NOW!! Bless you, westernfictioneers!

  5. That is indeed a great essay. One of these days I'm going to teach that class about perceptions of the West in film and literature, and that's going to be the first thing we read.

  6. Poetic, too - and there's poetry in much of western writing, if readers but look for it. Thanks, Jory.
    Nik Morton/Ross Morton