By Doug Hare EBS Staff

BIG SKY – The Western Literature Association hosted their 51st annual conference Sept. 21-24, at Big Sky Resort’s Huntley Lodge. College professors, Ph.D. candidates, K-12 teachers, and independent scholars from around the world filled the auditoriums and amphitheaters to hear lectures, papers, and roundtable discussions about “the profane West.”

Founded in 1965, the WLA is a nonprofit, scholarly association that promotes the study of literature and culture of the North American West. The WLA also publishes “Western American Literature,” a leading peer-reviewed journal grounded in the geography of the West, including Canada and Mexico. 

The conference kicked off with a screening of “Winter in the Blood,” a 2013 film based on James Welch’s novel, followed by a discussion with the directors. On Sept. 22, Stephen Graham Jones, author of “Mongrels,” gave a plenary address that was well received by attendees.

“One of the highlights for me was Maxine Hong Kingston’s address,” said Linda Karell, WLA president and professor of literature at Montana State University. “To have a writer of her stature in attendance is a gift. She was so generous with her time, attending lectures, talking with attendees, and even dancing in the ballroom. I wish she would adopt me, or at least let me come to Thanksgiving.”

A Chinese American author and professor emerita at University of California, Berkeley, Kingston’s memoirs and fiction have received numerous prestigious awards. This year she was honored by the WLA as the Distinguished Achievement Award winner.

This is the second time the WLA has hosted its event in Big Sky. With an abundance of scholars, artists, environmentalists, and community leaders discussing the importance of the West’s literary output, past and present, to a broad array of regional and global themes, the conference was another successful endeavor. 

After electing officers for the next year, the WLA announced plans to hold their 2017 conference Oct. 25-28 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As the conference came to a close, many of the participants grabbed box lunches and headed off on a field trip to Yellowstone National Park.