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Mary Hunter Austin was born in Illinois in 1868 and died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1934. Her father encouraged her interest in writing, but died when she was only ten. Her mother considered fiction mere “storying” akin to lying, and found Mary too insistent about shaping her identity as an individual. Mary did attend college, and earned a degree in math and science—not typical of women at the time. But her physical and emotional health deteriorated, and the family moved to California partly in the hope that the climate would strengthen her. In the West she found a husband, who proved to be unenduring, and her true calling as a writer. She was inspired by the desert landscape of the Mojave, and by the spiritual and storytelling traditions of Native peoples.
Austin was a prolific writer publishing thirty-one books, and belonged to a creative community that included Jack London, Willa Cather, and Ansel Adams. Soon after her death, however, her work fell out of print, and she has been largely forgotten and omitted from the literary canon.
The interconnected story cycle of Lost Borders challenges myths of the West as a setting for masculine self-definition from an ironic feminist perspective. Her own myth-making sometimes leads her into essentialism—variously interpreted by critics as either challenging or merely perpetuating stereotypes. Her depictions of Shoshone and Paiute women are sympathetic, but raise similar questions.
Sarah Torbeck represents the voice of the author throughout, and reads the story “The Land.” Other voices of “Borderers,” as Austin called them, are represented by Renee Reed (“The Hoodoo of the Minnietta”), Shayne Laughter (“A Case of Conscience”), and Berklea Going (“The Ploughed Land,” and poem). Doug Storm hosts, and Jack Hanek is announcer.
Special music for the episode comes from “The Light Guitar” by Patrick Zimmerli, performed by violinist Tim Fain on his album River of Light (Naxos, 2011).
This episode is produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe with assistance from Sarah Torbeck, Robert Shull, and Doug Storm.
Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Books Unbound theme music: The Impossible Shapes