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Mary Austin's Regionalism

Reflections on Gender, Genre, and Geography
Heike Schaefer
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Best known for The Land of Little Rain, a collection of natural-history essays about the California deserts, the Western writer Mary Austin (1868–1934) was a prolific literary figure in the first few decades of the twentieth century. In addition to her essays and short stories, Austin produced novels, poems, and cultural criticism, and was well known as a feminist, political writer, and mystic. Over the past decade a number of Austin’s books have been reissued, and her work has been the subject of increasing critical attention.

Heike Schaefer’s study complements that renewed interest with a fresh, broad appreciation of the complexity of Austin’s work. Considering unpublished materials and the full range of Austin’s literary and theoretical writing, Mary Austin’s Regionalism: Reflections on Gender, Genre, and Geography presents Austin as a significant early twentieth-century author who reworked the traditions of nature writing and women’s regionalism to envision a sustainable and democratic American culture. Austin brought an environmental awareness to the exploration of the race, gender, and class dynamics informing the European American colonization of the West. Drawing on Southwestern folklore and Native American concepts of storytelling, her work addressed feminist, pluralist, and ecological concerns in often strikingly original ways. By placing Austin’s writing in the context of contemporaneous as well as current critical debates, Mary Austin’s Regionalism reveals the insights that Austin’s work offers to present discussions of sense of place, the construction of human and nonhuman nature, sustainability, feminist politics, and the dynamics of intercultural communication. Mary Austin’s decades-old regionalist work still has the power to fascinate and move a wide audience of contemporary readers.

Under the Sign of Nature: Explorations in Ecocriticism