Annie Proulx, prize-winning author of “Brokeback Mountain,” spoke Wednesday evening at the Glenn Miller Ballroom in the UMC.
The talk was co-sponsored by the Center of the American West and the CU English Department as part of the 2006 Distinguished Lecturer series. The event was so well-attended that one of the ballroom’s folding walls had to be opened to accommodate the crowd.
Patricia Limerick, a professor and director of faculty at the Center of the American West, introduced Proulx.
“Annie Proulx reminds us, in prose as artful as it is direct, that the West’s complication and complexity are inseparable from its glory,” Limerick said.
Proulx took the stage and said she was very pleased to be there and a bit embarrassed. The reason for her embarrassment was the size of the audience.
“There are more people here than live in my entire state,” Proulx said, referring to Wyoming.
Proulx read a historical essay she wrote called “No Duty to Retreat from Red Desert Outlaws.” The idea for the piece occurred to her when she was asked to write a forward to a book of photographs of the Red Desert, an area of over six million acres in Wyoming. When she began researching for the forward, she found a complete lack of writings on the area. Because history is very important to Proulx, she began writing and researching the Red Desert.
The essay she read chronicled the rise of the Western outlaw following the Civil War; it then focused specifically on what she termed the outlaw period of Wyoming, from 1875 to 1895.
The reading by Proulx was a series of vignettes, a literary journey through the Red Desert. Proulx used several voices in reading her piece. At times she spoke in a Western twang to represent a male speaker. She made several aside comments about what she had read, and often elicited loud laughter from the audience.
Most of the characters and outlaws Proulx mentioned would be unrecognizable to all except a history major. One name, however, was very familiar: Robert LeRoy Parker, aka Butch Cassidy.
Proulx said Butch Cassidy, who was born a Utah Mormon, turned to crime and spent time in the Red Desert. Proulx gave the history of the famous outlaw and his gang, the Wild Bunch, up to when he fled the country and went to Bolivia.
Proulx finished her reading by giving the reason so many outlaws went to the Red Desert.
“Hiding in the desert, when the heat was on,” Proulx said. “Into the remote lands, alas, remote no more.”
Some CU students that went to the talk enjoyed the reading.
“I thought it was really interesting,” said Monica Koenig, a freshman English major. “My family lives in Wyoming, and what she talked about was very relevant to the current situation there.”
Others wanted and expected something else from the reading.
“I was a little disappointed she didn’t read any of her fiction,” said Carolyn Michaels, a freshman journalism major. “She did have a prose-like spin to the history that made it easy to listen to.”
Shelly Nicol, a junior psychology major, had complaints also.
“I felt it was kind of boring,” Nicol said. “Her prose is incredible, but the content was dry and dense.”
Proulx is the author of four novels and two story collections. Her collection “Close Range” includes the story “Brokeback Mountain.” Among her many literary awards are a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.