New Westers

The West in Contemporary America

Michael L. Johnson

Spur Award, Best Western Nonfiction

"Yeeeeehaaah!" Nightly that raucous cry breezes out from beneath the broad-brimmed Stetsons of boot-scootin line dancers at boisterous bars called Cadillac Ranch, Cactus Moon, or Stallions & Stars. And that, Michael Johnson tells us, is just one of the many signs that Americans have rekindled—and refashioned—their love affair with the American West.

“Provocative, engaging, and well worth the reader's effort.

—Western Historical Quarterly

“Johnson has produced a fascinating and truly impressive book that anyone interested in the Western United States must read.

—New Mexico Historical Review
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These "New Westers," Johnson reveals, line-dance and two-step, listen to Garth Brooks and George Strait, drink beer from long-neck bottles, wear clothes ordered from Sheplers, watch rodeo on ESPN, play Wild West arcade games, eat fajitas and tacos in stucco-style Mexican cafes, collect Western art and Native American crafts, and vacation in and move to the West.

"New Westers" rewrite the history and biography of the West. They re-imagine the West in cowboy sagas and poetry, Native American novels, Mexican-American drama, nature writing, revisionist films, eclectic visual artwork, and neo-traditional music. They flock to movies like Thelma and Louise, Unforgiven, and Dances with Wolves or mini-series like Lonesome Dove and read bestsellers like The Crossing and All the Pretty Horses.

"New Westers" are men and women who may or may not have ever hitched up a horse but who want a "personal" West. At the end of an urbanized century adrift in confusing change, they seek a more natural home, a fuller and wider sense of place, and a deeper and more colorful personal identity. They also want, Johnson shows, to revive the dream of the mythic West-but on new and different terms. They overrun the Old West and yet strive to preserve it, raising troubling new concerns about the differences between the mythic and the real, between traditional and contemporary cultural influences.

Infused with true grit and true affection, Johnson's immensely entertaining book takes us on a lively jaunt through a colorful and amazing landscape. His celebration of things Western will be treasured by all armchair cowpokes or anyone who's ever dreamed of riding the high country.

About the Author

Michael L. Johnson, professor of English at the University of Kansas, is the author of numerous books on subjects that stretch from New Journalism to artificial intelligence, including Violence and Grace: Poems about the American West.