SOUTHWESTERN SLANT: Tucked under the San Francisco Peaks, in the cold northern reaches of the state, Northland Publishing of Flagstaff took a chance on some stories and won.
Walking the Twilight: Women Writers of the Southwest, an anthology of short stories compiled and edited by Kathryn Wilder, has turned into a surprise success. The book of 33 stories, featuring authors known and unknown, was first published last fall and is already into its second printing.
"It's unusual for us," says editor Erin Murphy. "We don't usually do well with fiction. We're known for our nonfiction of the Southwest and children's books. But this already went back to reprint. We've sold about 5,000 copies."
The collection is the brainchild of Wilder, a Northland editor who has since left the company to write full time. As she writes in the introduction, she had been wondering, "Does the Southwest as place influence its stories beyond the setting of cactus and canyon?...Enough so that it becomes a style among a select group of people? Writers? Women? Like the writers of the New West, are there women writers of the Southwest?"
The hundreds of submissions Wilder received convinced her the answer to all these questions is yes. And the stories she selected back her up. The book is an eclectic mix of tales about childhood and old age, about sex and jail and motherhood and the call of the wild. The land, whether it's the hellhot Texas Valley or the subzero Utah mountains, flavors each of these stories about women's lives.
"It's very much a book by women," as Murphy says. "You couldn't read any of these stories and think they were by a man."
In part to make the book more salable, Wilder first signed on a handful of well-known authors, each of whom contributed work already published elsewhere. She met Tucson's Barbara Kingsolver at a book fair in Denver. A piece of Kingsolver's best-selling novel Pigs in Heaven runs in the book as a short story called "A Mean Eye." Another heavy hitter is Sandra Cisneros, a Texas Chicana by way of Chicago who's won national acclaim for her story collections Woman Hollering Creek and The House on Mango Street. Her wholly original voice comes through loud and clear in "My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn." Wilder also brought in Pam Houston, author of the delightful Cowboys Are My Weakness, and Terry Tempest Williams, a Utah naturalist and respected "New West" writer.
It's a pleasure to come across these familiar writers again, but it's even more fun to discover new voices. Among the Tucson contributions besides Kingsolver are Rita Maria Magdaleno, Rita Garitano and Ellen Winter. Winter's "Clock of Changing Color" is a standout. An Easterner who originally moved here to go through the creative program at the UA, and then came back, Winter has turned in an imaginative story of a woman grown old with Tucson. Though the writer is 32 years old, she writes persuasively in the first person, taking the voice of a woman whose life is nearing its end. The character, who lives in an historic bungalow in Armory Park, is now on the far side of an unhappy marriage. She relishes her widowhood, but it's her memories of youthful love that still warm her days.
Garitano delivers a mesmerizing excerpt from Speedway Boulevard, a novel in progress. In it, an elderly Mexican-American woman, content at home with her knitting, gets a terrifying visit from a son AWOL from jail. Magdaleno recreates a family memory from the 1940s about the death of a baby girl in a cold Arizona mining town in the poignant "Cuatas."
Right now Northland is planning a sequel to the first edition. "We're working on a contract with Kathryn right now," Murphy says. "She's already put an ad (call for submissions) in Poets & Writers for March. We hope to have the new book out in '96."
The big-name writers might be asked to submit never-before-published work for the next volume, Murphy says. And here's an alert for local women writers: the editors also hope to attract work from brand-new writers who didn't appear in the first book.
For more information or guidelines about the project, write to Kathryn Wilder at P.O. Box 3928, Flagstaff, AZ 86003. Walking the Twilight: Women Writers of the Southwest, edited by Kathryn Wilder, is available at local bookstores for $14.95.
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