When I think "anthology," I usually think boring compilation or shallow "Best of" CD. But this year, three Western women have pulled together an anthology of writing that reminds me more of my favorite mix tape. In Woven on the Wind, editors Gaydell Collier, Linda Hasselstrom and Nancy Curtis unleash an outpouring of new writing from a group we don't usually hear from - rural Western women. The 150-plus contributors from 16 states and three Canadian provinces all write about their friendships with other women. Their stories are diverse, and sometimes raw enough to turn your stomach, but together they start to show us how Western women make their lives and friendships work.
Woven on the Wind is the second of two book projects put together by Collier, Hasselstrom and Curtis, fellow ranchers and writers. In 1997, through postings in rural bookstores, libraries and grocery stores, the trio asked women to send in writing about their lives. The manuscripts they got in return became Leaning into the Wind (HCN, 10/13/97). The stories were about a thousand different things, but oddly, few if any of the contributions talked about women's kinship with other women. That made the editors curious, says Linda Hasselstrom. "Over and over, we came back to the fact that these women had written about ... horses, dogs, puppies, men, fathers, grandfathers, but they had not written about their women friends," she says. "We thought, well, maybe those friendships are too rare and precious for them to write about ... but we thought it would be worth asking."
The stories women sent in for Woven on the Wind are far from sentimental cliches. Mary Hadley, a contributor from Wyoming, tells us that life in wide open places sometimes means you don't get to choose your friends. In "No Room for Strangers," Hadley writes that she met her friend Pat just days before the two wives moved into an isolated Nevada ranch house together. Through a kind of openness and good luck, Hadley writes, she and Pat made things work.
In "Dear Judy," Sherry Schultz Shillenn writes about falling into a deep and lonely depression after her first child left home for college. When all other support networks failed, Shillenn's daily walks with one friend pulled her through. Sometimes, friendships aren't like that: With more than a trace of vengeance, Gwen Petersen writes about her friend Delia, and how it took 40 years of agony to "cut Delia out of my life."
Not always polished or fully developed, the pieces are a startling collective diary of Western women's lives.
Woven on the Wind: Women Write about Friendship in the Sagebrush West, Linda Hasselstrom, Gaydell Collier, Nancy Curtis, editors: Houghton Mifflin Co., 222 Berkeley St., Boston, MA 02116, 2001. Hardcover: $25. 336 pages.