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Female authors populate West Texas with vibrant humanity

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"Writing on the Wind: An Anthology of West Texas Women Writers," edited by Lou Halsell Rodenberger, Laura Payne Butler and Jacqueline Kolosov; Texas Tech University Press ($21.95)


It's easy to drive through West Texas and believe, as poet Carol Coffee Reposa does, that you have been driving through "miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles of nothing, from here to monotony."

If that's the case with you, try reading "Writing on the Wind" An Anthology of West Texas Women Writers," where 25 women from academia share their essays, memoirs, fiction and poetry based on the landscape that, in one way or another, helped fashion their formidable literary talents.

The fullness of regional life is so engagingly chronicled here that you may never again think of West Texas without understanding the passions inspired by this seemingly empty land. These are stories about family, legacy, marriage, divorce, religion, all of them played out in relentless weather and under an all-encompassing sky.

The simultaneously lovely and horribly arid land inspires these writers to delve into the contrasts between the harsh and beautiful, writes one of the collection's editors, Lou Halsell Rodenberger. The women featured in this collection do focus on contrasts between the young and old, the East and West, wet and the dry, the new and the old social norms.

You'll enjoy the eclectic writing styles that present these overall themes.

In the essay "It's Three O'clock in the Morning," author Laura Payne Butler demonstrates how one landscape left drastically different impressions on an afternoon-TV-watching grandmother and her very literary granddaughter.

The work ethic necessary to live on and from this land comes to light in the touching, funny short story "To Reap, To Thresh." Here, author Jan Epton Seale presents a deeply felt tale of a wheat farming couple in disagreement over whether the husband should have the image of a combine engraved on his headstone after a mechanic friend died and had a wrench carved on his grave marker.

The climate becomes a template for the characters' motivations in "Nell Peterson's Right Hand Man," as Kelly Teague Smith tells of what happened on the "Tuesday night before Nell Peterson began to lose her mind." In this story, the dry landscape becomes a metaphor for a sterile marriage and a husband turned to drink.

A sense of history comes alive in several of these tales. Judy Alter's "The Art Of Dipping Candles" adds life to Fort Worth's Log Cabin Village when she fictionalizes a scenario of an Indian attack on one of the structures.

These female writers come from a storied place most often described from the perspective of the men credited with shaping it - the cowboy, the rancher, the farmer or the oil field worker.

"Writing on the Wind" proves that smart, creative women also come from these plains, these deserts. As Jacqueline Kolosov writes, "West Texas is a land that breeds hardy and resourceful people." This collection adds insightful dimension to a surprisingly inspiring place.


(c) 2005, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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