Phillip Howerton has taken two centuries worth of Ozark literature, beginning with an Osage creation story and ending with a short story and poem by C. D. Albin, to create "The Literature of the Ozarks."
Howerton will be at the Fredericktown branch of the Ozark Regional Library to discuss his creation at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
In total, the book presents work from a diverse group of 41 authors, such as a German explorer, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, an art history professor, a native farm wife, an internationally known science fiction writer, the son of an assassinated Cherokee chief, African Americans who witnessed the era of racial expulsion and Jim Crow, and one of the most popular and critically acclaimed contemporary authors of fiction.
"I provide an extensive general introduction, introductions to our four literary eras and an introduction to each author and text," Howerton said. "In these introductions I attempt to define the Ozarks as a geographical and cultural place, to define Ozarks literature, and to identify several trends and themes that run through the body of Ozarks literature."
Howerton said this is not the greatest hits album but rather an organized and critical survey that presents the ugly, the bad, the good and the great literature of the region.
"The Ozarks and its literature is often not taken seriously and this anthology is intended to be a beginning point of a focused, ordered and critical study, the type of study that has been granted to literature of other American regions," Howerton said. "Readers will be introduced to several writers and themes they may be unfamiliar with and they will be prompted to think in new ways about the regional literature they are familiar with."
Howerton said this anthology highlights several themes running through these two centuries of literature, such as the use of stereotype, the value of the American frontier and the exceptionalism of place.
"In most instances, I offer no judgment of the text's literary value or of its other strengths or weaknesses," Howerton said. "Other than correcting a few obvious typographical errors, I reproduce them as they originally appeared. All innovative dialect and intentional misspellings were reproduced."
Howerton said in the case of excerpts he attempted to provide passages that could stand alone outside the original text and provide introductions that grant the grounding a reader might need to understand and enjoy the work.
"I hope 'The Literature of the Ozarks' is what I intended it to be, a beginning to further serious study of a neglected body of literature about an often misunderstood region," Howerton said. "It was a labor of love and I am delighted to share it. As I state in my acknowledgements, I hope that every reader will in some way challenge my omissions, inclusions and conclusions, for such disputes will inform and prompt the work that needs to be done within the field of Ozarks studies."
Howerton is currently teaching English at Missouri State University-West Plains and is co-founder and co-editor of "Cave Region Review," general editor of "Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozark Studies," author of "The History of Tree Roots" and has essays, reviews and poems in a wide variety of journals.
Howerton said the most challenging part of editing "The Literature of the Ozarks" was reproducing the exaggerating dialect that a few of the authors concocted.
"In some texts almost every word of dialogue was misspelled, so spell check was no help when proofreading such passages," Howerton said. "Identifying, locating and reading obscure forgotten texts can be a fun form of detective work. I love old books, so this project gave me an excuse to spend some quality time with them."
Howerton said when he began the project, he believed there would be relatively little Ozarks-based literature, but he soon learned there is a large and diverse body of writing about this region.
"At times the task of providing an organized and focused discussion of this body of work appeared to be overwhelming," Howerton said. "The most stressful and least enjoyable part of my research was determining copyright holders and acquiring permissions for some of the more obscure works."
Howerton said all of the living authors granted free permissions to reprint their work, and Daniel Woodrell was especially generous.
"I especially want to thank Brooks Blevins, the general editor of the Ozark Studies Series at the University of Arkansas Press for inviting me to submit this project," Howerton said. "Special thanks go to the excellent staff at the University of Arkansas Press. They were ever patient and professional, and they did a beautiful job with this book. Several people read early drafts and offered advice, including Craig Albin, Brooks Blevins, Brian Hardman, and Steve Wiegenstein."
Howerton said this story needs to be told because Ozarks literature has generally been omitted from the study of American literature history.
"For example, 'The Companion to Southern Literature' devotes only one-half page to the Ozarks and the five-volume edition of 'The Norton Introduction to American Literature,' the most popular American literature anthology used in university classrooms, does not mention the Ozarks in its 6,000 pages," Howerton said. "This region's literature has been dismissed."
Howerton said the Ozarks is a small corner of the world, but just like every other place, it is a crossroads of experience, and all places and people should be taken seriously in "our shrinking world."