Exploring the Literature of the California Desert

Prof. Ruth Nolan


We are proud to announce a special symposium within our 2019 book festival that will explore literature inspired by the California Desert. This special area of the book festival will be comprised of poetry and prose readings from works by our audience, local writers, as well as from famous works of literature, all leading to public discussions about writing that evokes haunting imagery and feelings about our California desert.


    Aspiring and published authors will participate, including Ruth Nolan, professor of English at the College of the Desert. Several events will be filmed to broadcast on our YouTube channel. We will explore the lore, mystique and history surrounding legendary desert names in film and books–the Mojave, Death Valley, Palm Springs, Route 66 and Barstow.  We hope to also have a writing workshop on Friday, the day before the festival.
    On Friday, October 11th, Professor Nolan will conduct a writing workshop in the Hesperia Library Community Room from 1:00 – 2:30 to help you “Explore your Inner Desert.”
At 3:30, Diana Lindsay from Sunbelt Publications in El Cajon will discuss the book “Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living” by Marshal South.

     On Saturday, October 12th,   Professor Nolan will conduct a 90-minute lecture at the Speakers’ Place Booth at the festival from 10:00-11:30 with slides that will include an analysis of some of the 80 literary works in her anthology No Place for a Puritan: the Literature of California’s Deserts. This will be the highlight of our desert literature symposium with Nolan reading selected excerpts, allowing ample time for a community dialogue. As the summary to Nolan’s book says, “Feared and romanticized throughout the ages, the desert has a hold on our imagination that is never more evident than in the literature it has inspired. […] the desert’s seemingly barren landscapes have provided rich ground for writers to explore.”
      Our 1:30 panel of three will discuss various works of literature exploring California’s desert: Mary DeSantis, author of ASHLING, Madline Gornell, author of RETICENCE OF RAVENS, and Aaron Gansky, author of THE BARGAIN
    Here is a brief list of some of the books we hope to explore:
-The Lonesome Gods: An Epic Novel of the California Desert (1984) by Louis L’Amour
-Desert Reckoning (2012) by Deanne Stillman, (nonfiction) about the largest manhunt in modern California history in 2003 set in the Antelope Valley
-Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living by Marshal South.
The Sun Worshippers, a Southern California noir by A.S. Fleischman about a former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who goes to the desert town of Thebes, Calif. to write the authorized biography of a wealthy land developer
-Chuckwalla Land: The Riddle of California’s Deserts (2011) by David Rains Wallace, who the San Francisco Chronicle describes as “a writer in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau.”
-The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin. As the Amazon book summary reads, “Between the high Sierras south from Yosemite—east and south over a very great assemblage of broken ranges beyond Death Valley, and into the Mojave Desert” [this] is the territory that Mary Austin calls The Land of Little Rain.
-Rhodes The Mojave-Stone and Reticence of Ravens by M.M. Gornell
     We encourage you to read this wonderful article by Benjamin Goulet in Desert Sun Magazine titled “The Literature of the California Desert is a Diverse Mix” about some authors of desert literature.