What’s out there? 

High Desert Journal examines place

When University of Montana English professor Robert Stubblefield was approached about submitting work to a new art and literary publication called High Desert Journal, he didn’t hesitate to get involved. With Bill Kittredge on the Board of Advisors, a handsome large-format layout, and the rare chance to showcase work influenced by his Eastern Oregon roots and current Missoula home, it occurred to Stubblefield that HDJ was filling an artistic void almost as broad as the region it seeks to examine.

“This region needed a publication like this for a very long time,” he says. “There is a lot going on in the High Desert and the Great Basin—in the arts and with the good writing from there—that isn’t always getting out to the coasts where a lot of the publications come from.”

Stubblefield isn’t alone in his assessment. Starting with Kittredge’s initial involvement with the publication, Missoula’s contributions to HDJ have grown exponentially: in the first issue both Stubblefield and David James Duncan offered short stories, and the second issue (due out in October) will feature another piece by Stubblefield, submissions from Kittredge and Phil Condon, and the artwork of Wes Mills. It’s enough to raise the question of how exactly Missoula fits into the classification of the High Desert.

“It definitely pushes the Great Basin definition, and maybe that’s okay,” says HDJ Editor Elizabeth Quinn, “as much as the focus is on those great, wide-open spaces. There’s something about need and necessity and hunger in doing what we’re doing for the region that we’re talking to, and to me the fact that people from Missoula are raising their hands means that we need to look there.”

Quinn is a former arts writer for The Source Weekly, an alternative paper in Bend, Ore., and she hatched the idea of HDJ with a loose interpretation of geographical boundaries, but a distinct goal of capturing the spirit of the place “through art, story, poetry and people.” In the first two issues contributors from Oregon, California, Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Montana submitted work.

“I’ll accept or look at a poem about turkey vultures or about herons, and maybe that vulture or heron isn’t in the desert but I may not need to know that,” says Quinn, noting that as word spreads about HDJ, she’s receiving submissions from across the country. “If there is some theme or element that relates and is good literature, then it’s fair game…I think a lot of writers and artists out there have this connection to this wide-open space out in the inter-mountain region that they’ve connected to at different times in their lives and have work to show from it, but maybe not have an exact place for it.”

That was exactly the reason Stubblefield submitted his short story, “Preserves.” In the piece—which since its publication in HDJ has been selected for the Best American Stories collection due out in 2006—he writes:

Northern or southern exposure made all the difference in the dry mid-latitudes. Owings remembered harvesting huckleberries with his family from the northern slopes of the Blue Mountains. And harvesting it was—not recreational picking, although the traveling and camping was not without reward, but the purpose was undoubtedly the putting away of stores, huckleberries and applesauce the only fruit the family would have through winter and spring. The picking and canning organized a campaign against the dull grains and boiled, stringy meat of winter—the last potatoes with eyes and mold cut out.

“I can’t remember when the last new publication like this started,” says Stubblefield. “But this is a little bit different in that we can focus on the specifics and the spirit of this region.”

In addition to the work of established authors and artists, HDJ is also providing a new outlet for emerging writers. Former UM undergrad Annemarie Frohnhoefer submitted a personal essay that will run in the second issue, marking her first professional publication. It’s a piece, says Quinn, that helps further HDJ’s primary goal:

“I grew up in Central Oregon and I always heard people refer to the high desert and I was just on the edge of it—I never really got it, I never really understood,” Quinn says. “I’d look out to the east and wonder: What’s out there? So the inspiration [for HDJ] comes from a respect and regard and reverence for place, and it’s infused by my other passions being art and writing, and answering that question: What’s out there?”

Fact and Fiction hosts a reception, open to the public, to celebrate High Desert Journal on Tuesday, Aug. 30, at 7 PM. Local authors and artists involved with HDJ will be in attendance to discuss the submission process and to talk about the publication. Free.

arts@missoulanews.com

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