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“The truth of the West is a constellation”: Betsy Gaines Quammen discusses ‘Myth and Mending on the Far Side of America’

Historian Betsy Gaines Quammen, author of ‘True West: Myth and Mending on the Far Side of America’ (Torrey House Press).

This week on The Write Question, host Lauren Korn speaks with historian and author Betsy Gaines Quammen about True West: Myth and Mending on the Far Side of America (Torrey House Press). True West explores myths of the West and how, if left unexamined, they distort the realities of the present and exacerbate polarizations. These misperceptions about land, politics, liberty, and self-determination threaten the well-being of western communities over-run by newcomers seeking a dream and the country, unless America recognizes the dangers of building a national identity on illusion. Betsy interrogates it all by listening, carefully, to people from varying political and cultural perspectives as she seeks to reconcile the deep anger and broad misunderstandings that linger amid myths that define and impede the West and America.

Note: Ciara Thomas at KGLT in Bozeman, Montana, engineered this episode. A thank you to both Ciara and to KGLT for letting us use their studio.

About Betsy:

Betsy Gaines Quammen is a historian and writer. She received a PhD from Montana State University where she studied religion, history and the philosophy of science. Her dissertation focused on Mormon history and the roots of armed public land conflicts occurring in the United States. She is fascinated at how religious views shape relationships to landscape. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, New York Daily News, and the History News Network. She is the author of American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God, and Public Lands in the West and True West: Myth and Mending on the Far Side of America. Betsy lives in Montana with her husband, writer David Quammen, three giant dogs, a sturdy cat, and a lanky rescue python.

Betsy Gaines Quammen recommends:

Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance by Nick Estes (Verso Books)

North Woods by Daniel Mason (Penguin Random House)

Murder at the Mission: A Frontier Killing, Its Legacy of Lies, and the Taking of the American West by Blaine Harden (Penguin Random House)

The Abduction of Betty and Barney Hill: Alien Encounters, Civil Rights, and the New Age in America by Matthew Bowman (Yale University Press)

Our Migrant Souls: A Meditation on Race and the Meanings and Myths of “Latino” by Hector Tobar (MCD, an imprint of Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917 by Michael Punke (Hachette Books)

Lauren Korn recommends:

True West: Myth and Mending on the Far Side of America (Torrey House Press)

Holding Fire: A Reckoning with the American West (Mariner Books, HarperCollins) and Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West (Washington Square Press) by Bryce Andrews

Come West and See, Ruthie Fear, and Old King (W. W. Norton & Company) by Maxim Loskutoff

Becoming Little Shell: A Landless Indian’s Journey Home by Chris La Tray (forthcoming, Milkweed Editions)

Perma Red and The Lost Journals of Sacajewea by Debra Magpie Earling (Milkweed Editions)

The Write Question team for this episode was Lauren Korn, host, co-producer, and editor; and Chris Moyles, co-producer and editor; and Ciera Thomas, sound engineer. This episode is/was supported by Fact & Fiction, an independent bookstore located in the heart of downtown Missoula, Montana, providing books for all ages and supporting the literary community in Montana and beyond. More information can be found at

The Write Question logo and brand (2022) was designed by Molly Russell. You can see more of her work at and on Instagram @iamthemollruss. Our music was written and recorded by John Floridis.

Funding for The Write Question comes from Humanities Montana; members of Montana Public Radio; and from the Greater Montana Foundation—encouraging communication on issues, trends, and values of importance to Montanans.

The Write Question is a production of Montana Public Radio.

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Lauren R. Korn holds an M.A. in poetry from the University of New Brunswick, where she was the recipient of the Tom Riesterer Memorial Prize and the Angela Ludan Levine Memorial Book Prize. A former bookseller and the former Director of the Montana Book Festival, she is now an Arts and Culture Producer at Montana Public Radio and the host of it’s literature-based radio program and podcast, ‘The Write Question.’
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