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Congratulations to Patricia Nell Warren
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 01/15/12
Last updated on: 01/16/12
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Patricia Nell Warren (YouTube video still).

Congratulations to Patricia Nell Warren on the publication of My West: Personal Writings on the American West: Past, Present & Future. The new book collects 47 previously published articles, essays, and blogs about the Western United States, including many about her native Montana, where she grew up on her family's ranch in Deer Lodge. The ranch is now known as the Grant-Kohrs ranch and is a national historic site.

Warren is, of course, best-known for her novels. Almost 40 years after its publication, The Front Runner (1974) remains one of the most popular glbtq novels ever published. The book, which is both uplifting and tragic, managed to capture the spirit of its time by articulating the aspirations and ideals of the burgeoning gay liberation movement. It not only became an international best seller, but also inspired the gay and lesbian running group, Frontrunners, and helped expose what was then an underground secret: gay men no less than lesbians were interested in sports.

An avid sportswoman herself, Warren has collected her columns and essays about glbtq sports figures in The Lavender Locker Room (2006). One of the most poignant moments at Montreal's Outgames in 2006 occurred when Warren ran the last lap of the men's 5,000 kilometer race at the Claude-Robillard Sports Complex, symbolically completing the event during which the hero of The Front Runner is killed during the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

Warren has written many other novels since The Front Runner, including two books that continue the story: Harlan's Race (1994) and Billy's Boy (1997). Other novels include The Fancy Dancer (1976), The Beauty Queen (1978), One Is the Sun (1991), and The Wild Man (2001). The Fancy Dancer and One Is the Sun are set in Montana, but they all in various ways extoll the Western values of determination, self-sufficiency, and true grit.

Hence, it is good to have the essays in My West collected and made available. The book is not only a good read in its own right, but it also reveals a great deal about Warren and her work.

The pieces collected in My West were written over a period of almost 50 years for a wide variety of venues. Some concern rather technical questions such as the origins of the cow horse, bobcats as pest controllers, the mechanics of haying on a large ranch, the genealogy of the Texas longhorn, and a quest for sweetgrass.

Some are sketches of historical figures such as Calamity Jane, Two-Spirit People, and Quarra Grant, the first "First Lady" of Montana Territory. Others recount spiritual lessons learned in the West. Still others confront contemporary political issues, leading Warren at one point, in an open letter to Montana state senators, who in 1995 were considering a bill that would impose censorship in schools, to ask, "How far is the insanity going to go? How pathetically small is the Big Sky going to get?"

In most of the essays collected here gender and sexuality are at least implicit concerns. Often these issues are confronted directly. The essay "A Coming-Out Tale of Old Montana" offers a wonderful portrait of a gay Montanan and of how deeply glbtq people are braided into Montana history.

My favorite pieces in this rich cornucopia are the ones that are most personal and most autobiographical. Warren's essays entitled "Girl Grassroots," which begins "When I was 8 years old, I fell in love with Eleanor Roosevelt," and "What My Mother Did After She Read My Gay Novel," offer telling insights into the circumstances and people who helped mold her into the remarkable woman she is.

Here Patricia Nell Warren discusses My West at the Autry National Center:

Here is Part 2 of the reading at the Autry National Center:

My West and other books by Patricia Nell Warren may be ordered from the publisher Wildcat Press.

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