Jim Thompson and the American West: A Critical Collection
Jim Thompson, a writer of hard-boiled crime fiction, was born in Anadarko, Indian Territory (Oklahoma), in 1906. Thompson’s literary achievements were little-recognized during his lifetime; however, many of his works were re-discovered and re-published in the 1980s. His work is often lauded, noting his ability to understand the criminal mind. His work is largely critiqued and categorized as only hard-boiled fiction, but his work defies such a simple genre classification. Thompson combines the genres of crime fiction and Westerns and in doing so, his works read as critiques of American history and culture. Certainly much of Thompson’s work can be read as a critique of post-WWII America. As David Cochrane points out Thompson’s works serve as “portraits of the marginal, alienated, and sociopathic inhabitants of America’s barren wastelands. . . . . he specialized in showing the psychic ravages inflicted on the victims of the American economic and political system” (14). However, some of Thompson’s work is directly aimed at challenging the roots of frontier mythologies. Thompson’s life in the West, raised by a disgraced sheriff of Caddo County, Oklahoma, and spending his early years working in the oil fields, directly influences the characters he creates. Many of his novels are set in the West and his psychopathic protagonists are often sheriffs who represent the rugged pragmatism of the American West. His works confront accepted notions of Manifest Destiny, the noble cowboy, and the booming oil industry of the West. His depictions of life in the West during the first half of the twentieth century are chilling and reflect the greed and violence of the popular Wild West rearticulated in a more modern world.
This collection welcomes critical essays on Thompson’s Western fiction, his autobiographical work, film adaptations of his work, and/or his work with the Oklahoma Writers’ Project. Abstracts of 500-700 words and short bios are due April 15, 2019. Selections will be made by May 1, 2019. Finished essays are due by August 1, 2019.
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