Mapping American Writers
There are several reasons why you might want to be E. Annie Proulx, mostly to do with her talent as a writer of elemental novels such as “The Shipping News”. But now there is another one: being E. Annie Proulx means having practically the whole of Wyoming to yourself.
If you were Emily Dickinson or John Cheever, you would have to contend with being squeezed alongside fellow east-coasters such as J.D. Salinger and Anne Sexton. If you were Norman Mailer, you would have an even bigger problem—thanks to a British bookseller with a sideline in cartography called Geoff Sawers. “I was never really a fan of Mailer,” Sawers says. “And if I had put in Mailer then I’d have had to sacrifice someone else, so he didn’t make it.”
Ah, the cruel realities of writerly fame. One minute you’re the talk of the town, the next you’re not even on the map. Sawers’s Literary Map of the United States of America includes more than 200 novelists, poets and cartoonists, and the selection process, as in all literary contests, had an element of the arbitrary. First, Sawers and his co-artist, Bridget Hannigan, drew up a list of names they felt had to be on there, a combination of prizewinners and personal crushes. Thus F. Scott Fitzgerald was an early inclusion, but so was Charles M. Schulz, creator of Snoopy. Then there was the placement issue: where a writer appeared was only sometimes determined by birthplace. So while Tom Wolfe stretches up towards his hometown of Richmond, Virginia (above), Herman Melville appears whaling away north of Nantucket with “Moby Dick” (below). “People from all over the world are buying the maps,” Sawers says, “and they can get quite angry when their favourite writers don’t appear where they expect them to.”