From the year of Arizona’s statehood to its centennial in 2012, narratives of the state and its natural landscape have revealed—and reconfigured—the state’s image. Through official state and federal publications, newspapers, novels, poetry, autobiographies, and magazines, Kim Engel-Pearson examines narratives of Arizona that reflect both a century of Euro-American dominance and a diverse and multilayered cultural landscape.
Examining the written record at twenty-five-year intervals, Writing Arizona, 1912–2012 shows us how the state was created through the writings of both its inhabitants and its visitors, from pioneer reminiscences of settling the desert to modern stories of homelessness, and from early-twentieth-century Native American “as-told-to” autobiographies to those written in Natives’ own words in the 1970s and 1980s. Weaving together these written accounts, Engel-Pearson demonstrates how government leaders’ and boosters’ promotion of tourism—often at the expense of minority groups and the environment—was swiftly complicated by concerns about ethics, representation, and conservation.
Word by word, story by story, Engel-Pearson depicts an Arizona whose narratives reflect celebrations of diversity and calls for conservation—yet, at the same time, a state whose constitution declares only English words “official.” She reveals Arizona to be constructed, understood, and inhabited through narratives, a state of words as changeable as it is timeless.
“Many authors have put words to the richly diverse landscape of Arizona, but Writing Arizona, 1912–2012 illuminates the importance of where these words come from and the contexts that create them. Conceptualizations of the Sonoran Desert, Colorado Plateau, and mountain environs as places of great beauty or hardship, scarcity or abundance, have influenced portrayals of the people who live there, and these portrayals have helped shape the attitudes and politics of the state over the past century. Lest we forget the power of words, Writing Arizona, 1912–2012 reminds us that stories of place can either reveal and elevate or demean and ignore the reality in which we live.”—Leisl Carr Childers, author of Size of the Risk: Histories of Multiple Use in the Great Basin
“Generations of American wanderers, dreamers, entrepreneurs, artists, and refugees have endeavored to make a home in Arizona, a land long populated by Native communities and Mexican expatriates. In the process, some have looked upon the Arizona landscape alternatively as a barren waste, a natural wonder, a sanctuary, an inspiration, a hideout, or a heritage. Kim Engel-Pearson has listened carefully to the multiplicity of narratives around Arizona as a place created as much by words as by actions, from its incorporation as the forty-eighth state to its centennial.”—Eduardo Pagán, author of Historic Photos of Phoenix