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The West of Us

A new book explores the people and ideas shaping our region and future

January 27, 2010, 12:00 am

The American West is more than a geographical location. It’s an idea that encompasses certain traits, such as freedom, adventurousness and courage.

And while the West is a landscape, it’s also a place heavily defined by the kinds of people who choose it as their home.

It was those people that writers Corinne Platt and Meredith Ogilby set out to find. The two spent four years traveling the Rocky Mountain West, clocking thousands of highway miles and interviewing dozens of the West’s “heavy lifters.” Their subjects included politicians, artists, environmental activists, ranchers and scientists from New Mexico, Montana, Colorado, Arizona and beyond.

Voices of the American West is the result of that adventure.

The book is a collection of 49 monologues, drawn from the duo’s interviews and accompanied by portraits shot by Ogilby.

The pressing issues of the West are identified through these monologues, and the book is divided into sections such as “The Spirit of the West,” “Fighting for the Wild Lands” and “Energy Outlook.”

Land-use issues are prevalent throughout the book—and the unifying theme is the need to work together to tackle the challenges facing the American West.

“We’re really in a mess,” Platt says of the political, social, environmental and economic situations of the West and the world. “Now it’s time for people to start cooperating and looking at things differently. [For example,] the way some of the ranchers in the book have done—they’ve left their old mind-set of ‘I can do anything I want because it’s my land,’ to trying to learn and understand that land use takes thought and science and sustainability…All across the West, that is very much in demand and happening, too.”

That interdependence, both authors believe, is the key to preserving both the heritage and the environmental bounty of the West. “What’s always drawn people to the West is the land,” Platt says. “It’s always been the land. It’s always been the land of freedom, the land of plenty, the land of open spaces. It’s always been the new frontier, and that has defined the West from the beginning.”

Platt and Ogilby hope readers will be inspired to work for the West as the book’s subjects have. “People read it and they think, ‘What can I do?’” Platt says. “My husband, after he read the book, said, ‘God, Corinne, what are we doing with our lives?’”

Ogilby agrees, adding: “The reader does come away with a sense of hope, I think.”

This week, in advance of an event featuring Platt and Ogilby, SFR presents three of the book’s New Mexico chapters, which profile former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, Santa Clara Pueblo sculptor Roxanne Swentzell and alternative energy guru Mark Sardella. Udall, Swentzell and Sardella each explore the West from a different point of view—politically, culturally and economically. But together, they show the challenges and opportunities about which all of us should care.

Voices of the American West
Book signing and discussion with Corinne Platt, Meredith Ogilby and other contributors
2 pm Saturday, Jan. 30

Garcia Street Books
376 Garcia St.

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