Literary Oregon Literary Lewis & Clark

The Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission has selected 100 books that best define the state and its people. Authors with ties to Lewis & Clark College are well represented on the list.

Among those who penned Oregon’s 100 best books are two famous explorers (hint: think the College name), a medical doctor who explored different gender roles, an attorney who was friends with Chief Joseph, a poet who was a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award, and a father and son who have created a rich literary dynasty.

The works of these authors–and many more–are included in Literary Oregon: One Hundred Books, 1800 to 2000, a list of the 100 most significant Oregon books as compiled by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission. The commission released the list last year in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Oregon State Library. Most of the works chosen are set in Oregon, although some made the list because their authors are defined as Oregonians.

Far from being limited to books with solely regional appeal, the list covers a wide range of prestigious works, including winners of the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and other major awards. 

“These hundred books, by their very thrust and range, speak to the quality of our literary community over time, our rich culture, and the influence of our amazing landscape,” says David Milholland ’71, director of the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission. “They are Oregon’s gifts to the greater world.”

Lewis & Clark College has close connections with 9 of the 100 titles and authors from the list.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

The Journals of the Expedition (1814)

Sixty years before the Monteith brothers formed Albany Collegiate Institute–the predecessor of Lewis & Clark College–two captains traced a path into history along the gorges, mountains, and beaches of Oregon. The long, rich literary history of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark has been thoroughly explored over the last 200 years.

Most literary research on the Lewis and Clark Expedition focuses on the journals compiled by the Corps of Discovery between 1804 and 1806. One of these books, the 1814 edition of the Journals of Lewis and Clark, is the earliest of the One Hundred Books. The College is privileged to have copies of this rare edition–and the majority of other editions published in the 19th century, in English and other languages–in its Special Collections. The Lewis and Clark Expedition collection at the College is one of the best in the world. A traveling exhibition showcasing many of the College’s treasures is winding up its national tour (for more information, see The Journey Continues).

Edwin Markham

The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems (1899)

In 1899, The Man with the Hoe, by Edwin Markham, burst onto the literary scene as one of the most popular poetry books of its time. Adopted as a rallying call for the labor movement, the poem “The Man with the Hoe” was first published in the popular press, eventually appearing in more than 10,000 newspapers and magazines.

Born to a pioneer family on the Oregon frontier, Markham became a celebrity in his own time both in the United States and overseas. (The Man with the Hoe was translated into more than 40 languages.)

Though Markham lived here for no more than five years as a child, the state has always claimed him as an Oregon poet. Markham’s romantic style of verse rapidly fell out of favor with the arrival of modern poets like T.S. Eliot in the 1920s. By the time of his death in 1940, Markham had been almost forgotten. 

The College was recently given two of Markham’s notebooks, which contain poem drafts, many unpublished, as well as news clippings and other ephemera. These treasures (Markham’s only manuscript materials housed in Oregon) are being preserved and catalogued. In the future, these documents may provide material for a reexamination of the life of an important Oregon literary figure.

Robert Ormond Case

The Loop: A Tale of the Oregon Country (1931)

By the 1930s, many Oregonians had become self-conscious about the literature being produced in the state. In 1927, H.L. Davis and James Stevens cowrote a critique of Oregon literature titled “Status Rerum [State of Affairs]: A Manifesto Upon the Present Condition of Northwest Literature… .” The response to this essay was remarkable, resulting in a dramatic improvement in the quality of the state’s fiction and poetry.

One public response was a project by 13 Oregon authors titled The Loop: A Tale of the Oregon Country. Originally issued as a series in the Oregon Journal newspaper, The Loop was also printed for a wider audience by the newly formed publisher of regional literature, Metropolitan Press/Binfords and Mort.

One of the authors participating in this project was Robert Ormond Case, who grew up in Texas but was educated at Pacific University and the University of Oregon. A prolific writer of Western fiction, Case published 14 books and more than 200 novelettes during his lifetime. 

In the 1930s, Case’s wife, Victoria, taught English at Albany College. When the College opened a Portland branch, Robert Ormond Case periodically taught fiction-writing classes, becoming the first in a long line of accomplished writers at Lewis & Clark.

Robert Ormond Case was one of more than a dozen authors who contributed to The Loop: A Tale of the Oregon Country.

Alan Hart (formerly Lucille Hart)

Dr. Mallory (1935)

One of the more obscure authors on the One Hundred Books list is Alan Hart. Hart’s first book, Dr. Mallory, is a fictitious account of a rural doctor set in the Reedsport area of southwestern Oregon. This work provides a compelling look at early 20th-century rural medicine based on Hart’s firsthand experience as a doctor in the region, and subtly expresses Hart’s frustrations with the prejudices of social life in rural Oregon

Lucille Hart enrolled at Albany College in 1908. As a student, she was an able writer, debater, and nonconformist. A caption for Hart’s 1911 yearbook photograph reads, “The remainder of the Junior class are justly proud of their ‘agitator.’ … With all her faults, we love her still.”

Albany College’s “agitator” transferred to Stanford with her roommate and lover, Eva Cushman, in 1911 but returned to Albany for graduation. In 1913, Hart entered the University of Oregon Medical School (now Oregon Health & Science University), where she would eventually graduate with top honors as the only woman in her class. 

In 1918, Hart consulted with a Portland psychiatrist, J. Allen Gilbert, who provided Hart with a referral for a hysterectomy. After the operation, Hart adopted her father’s name, Alan L. Hart, married Inez Stark, and lived the rest of her life as a man.

Hart’s professional life was always difficult. He moved from one community to another as locals inevitably found out about his past. Despite these obstacles, Hart was a successful doctor. He authored a well-regarded medical text, These Mysterious Rays: A Nontechnical Discussion of the Uses of X rays and Radium, Chiefly in Medicine (1943). He also wrote four novels about the medical profession, in all of which he addressed issues of discrimination.

Lewis & Clark’s Special Collections has an unusually complete collection of Hart’s publications, including all of the writings published during the student years and most of the books published later.

Charles Erskine Scott Wood

Collected Poems (1949)

A celebrated cultural figure in Portland in the early years of the 20th century, C.E.S. Wood was a vital catalyst in the city’s artistic and literary worlds. A founder of both the Multnomah County Library and the Portland Art Museum, Wood was prominent as an attorney, as an artist (closely associated with American Impressionist Childe Hassam), and as a poet and satirist. Wood’s The Poet in the Desert (1915) and his humorous dramatic dialogue Heavenly Discourse (1927) were both best sellers.

A lieutenant in the wars with the Nez Perce and the Bannock/Paiute, Wood is remembered now for having recorded the surrender speech of Chief Joseph, who became a friend in later life, offering hospitality for two summers to Wood’s young son Erskine. 

Around 1920, he left Portland for Los Gatos (“The Cats”), where he lived the rest of his life with poet Sara Bard Field, who edited his Collected Poems in 1949, five years after his death. Regular visitors to their home included Mark Twain, Ansel Adams, Robinson Jeffers, Yehudi Menuhin, and John Steinbeck.

In recent years, Lewis & Clark Law School has received generous support from Erskine Wood’s family, which has enabled the building of Louise and Erskine Wood Sr. Hall and the meticulous reconstruction of Erskine Wood’s library at the law school. The College’s Special Collections also acquired many Wood family letters and other memorabilia that provide a vivid window into three generations of this remarkable family.

William Stafford

Traveling through the Dark (1962)

William Stafford, who taught at Lewis & Clark College for 30 years, is among the country’s most admired poets. 

The second of his 58 poetry collections and chapbooks, Traveling through the Dark, won the National Book Award in 1963. It gathers memories of his early life in Kansas and later experiences in the West. The title poem is a classic account of a moral dilemma, deliberated alone at night on a deserted road along the Wilson River upon the poet’s return from teaching a college extension class in Tillamook. This has become one of the 20th century’s most anthologized and frequently taught poems.

William Stafford’s life of pacifist witness was exemplified in his wartime detention as a conscientious objector, described in his first book, Down in My Heart. This early experience informed his celebrated approach to teaching and workshops, a practice explored in Writing the Australian Crawl and three other widely read prose collections.

In 1970 and 1971, William Stafford was Consultant in Poetry (America’s Poet Laureate) at the Library of Congress. In 1975, he was designated Oregon’s Poet Laureate, a post he held until his death in 1993.

Kim Stafford

Having Everything Right: Essays of Place (1986)

Kim Stafford has continued the family tradition of service to the College in founding the Northwest Writing Institute almost 20 years ago. Under his leadership as director, the institute has supported the work of hundreds of writers, and the College’s new William Stafford Center will continue this legacy. At the same time, Stafford has been an active proponent of writing in schools and of public art projects throughout the state. He received the Governor’s Award for services to art in 1998.

Stafford is the author of the highly acclaimed Having Everything Right (1986), a beautifully judged collection of essays about place. His other nonfiction volumes include memoirs, among them a personal perspective on his father, Early Morning (2002), and a collection of essays on writing, The Muses Among Us (2003). His many collections of poetry include A Thousand Friends of Rain: New and Selected Poems (1999).

Lawson Fusao Inada

Before the War: Poems as They Happened (1971)

Lawson Fusao Inada is a colleague and friend of Vern Rutsala, professor emeritus of English at Lewis & Clark. In 1969, Inada took a sabbatical from Southern Oregon College (now University) to teach poetry at Lewis & Clark while Rutsala taught for a year at the University of Minnesota.

As a Japanese-American, Inada spent the early part of his life in internment camps. This experience had a profound influence on his life, and is deeply reflected in his work. Considered by many as the father of Asian-American Literature, Inada has spent his career writing about race, jazz, art, and social history. His volume Before the War: Poems as They Happened explores themes of childhood, heritage, and imprisonment. His collection Legends from Camp (1993) received the American Book Award in 1994. He was recently named poet laureate of Oregon.

Vincent Wixon, scholar in residence of the William Stafford Archives, comments: “Oregonians, especially Southern Oregonians have known for decades that Inada’s work is indispensable to our understanding of American history and culture. Without bitterness, he has educated us all about Japanese-American internment. Along with William Stafford, he is Oregon’s ultimate citizen-poet.”

Inada has spent the majority of his teaching career at Southern Oregon University. He lives in Ashland with his family.

Vern Rutsala

Ruined Cities (1987)

Vern Rutsala was born in 1934 in Idaho. His family moved to the Portland area, where he attended high school and Reed College. After graduation and a stint in the military, Rutsala studied at the famed Iowa Writers Workshop before accepting a position at Lewis & Clark College, where he taught for more than 40 years.

Rutsala has won numerous prizes, including the Carolyn Kizer Poetry Prize (twice), a Pushcart Prize, and a number of prestigious fellowships. He received the Juniper Prize for his book Little Known Sports and won the Oregon Book Award in 1992.

The Moment’s Equation (2004) was a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award. In the words of the judges’ citation, “The Moment’s Equation takes us through decades of America. There are evocative settings, memorable events; there are many roads to regard, many lives to consider. In this America, there are startling moments, keen equations, but there is always time for laughter, room for reflection. Each poem journeys to a destination. With a remarkable deftness and an unerring sense of direction, Vern Rutsala gets us there.”

Rutsala’s literary archives reside in the College’s Special Collections.

Doug Erickson is Lewis & Clark’s archivist and head of special collections; Jeremy Skinner is the College’s assistant archivist; and Paul Merchant is Lewis & Clark’s special collections associate and director of the William Stafford Archives.