Beautiful Swift Fox
Erna Fergusson and the Modern Southwest
Literary Criticism
6 x 9, 224 pp.
1 b&w photo.
Pub Date: 10/01/1996
Tarleton State University Southwestern Studies in the Humanities
  cloth
Price:        $29.95 s

978-0-89096-719-5

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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Beautiful Swift Fox

Erna Fergusson and the Modern Southwest

By Robert Franklin Gish

The American Southwest has assumed the status of a cultural icon over the last few decades, and one of the writers who helped it to do so was Erna Fergusson, named by the Hopis Beautiful Swift Fox. An Anglo American whose travel writing featured the multi-ethnicity of her region, she popularized the culture and landscapes of her native New Mexico and its surrounding states in a range of writing that prefigured the genre-defying art that has come to be called the New Journalism.Much has been written about New Mexico's remarkable Fergusson family, especially brother Harvey and his novels. But Erna Fergusson's literary career has been largely overlooked. An iconoclast at the forefront of the Southwest Renaissance movement, Erna gained a wide reputation beginning in the 1930s for her "written versions of the Southwest," which embraced the complexities of regional culture and sympathetically and intelligently portrayed the Indian and Mexican influences.Distinguished Southwestern writer Robert Franklin Gish assesses Fergussons's literary contributions and unlocks the inner workings of the prose stylist who operated at the interstices of genres. With his postmodern reappraisal of the creative nonfiction forms she used, Gish prompts readers to reconsider how they view the art of nonfiction writing. Gish argues persuasively that Fergusson's identity as a native New Mexican and the region's singular landscape informed the attitudes and values present in her art. He explores the ways her entrepreneurial stint as a New Mexico tour guide during the 1920s and 1930s shaped the organizational strategies for her writing. He considers thoughtfully her various forms of writing and how she used travelogue, journalistic report, popular history, and persuasive essay to elevate the Southwest to prominence. Gish shows her writing as highly evocative, descriptive, and metaphorical, defying the conventions of the nonfiction forms she used and paving the way for America's school of New Journalism.Beautiful Swift Fox is not strictly biography; nor does it, in a traditional sense, seek to explicate a body of work. Rather, like its subject, it bridges genres, offering a meditation on one Southwestern writer's sense of place.

Robert Franklin Gish is director of Ethnic Studies and professor of English and Ethnic Studies at California Polytechnic State University. Among his works of nonfiction that treat Southwestern letters are Frontier's End: The Life and Literature of Harvey Fergusson and Nueva Granada: Paul Horgan and the Southwest, published by Texas A&M University Press.

What Readers Are Saying:

" . . . a meditation on the influences that shaped Fergusson's sensibilities and literary techniques . . . Gish's discussion of recent theories about, for example, travel writing as a genre, including the idea of the reader as traveler, is a delight."--Tom Pilkington

" . . . a meditation on the influences that shaped Fergusson's sensibilities and literary techniques . . . Gish's discussion of recent theories about, for example, travel writing as a genre, including the idea of the reader as traveler, is a delight." --Tom Pilkington

“. . . Gish’s new book is by far the best study of Erna’s life and work.” --Book Talk

“Gish’s text is well written and balanced within the framework he established for it in his preface. American historians and historians of the Southwest would do well to read this book.” --The Journal of San Diego History Vol. 42

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