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October 21, 2010: Our Town


Image courtesy of Algonquin Books

Another Olmstead Book Honored
Far Bright Star cited by Booklist

Ohio Wesleyan University professor Robert Olmstead’s novel Far Bright Star has been named one of the Top Ten Westerns of the Decade by Booklist, the magazine of the American Library Association.

“Typically,” says Bill Ott, of Booklist, “our top 10 lists cover one year, but in the case of westerns, the rules require some changing. Not only are there relatively few westerns published in any 12-month span, but many of those that do appear are reissues of stories published decades earlier. Thus, our scan of the best of the best, while emphasizing the last year, extends back to 2001, making this list a kind of best of the decade in a genre that remains much loved among its devotees.”

Set in 1916, Far Bright Star follows the fate of aging cavalryman Napoleon Childs; his brother, Xenophon; and a group of inexperienced horse soldiers that includes “deadbeats, cutthroats, dilettantes, and murderers,” as they carry out a fruitless search for Pancho Villa. After the massacre of most of his men, Napoleon is captured, tortured, stripped of his clothing and boots, and left to die in the scorching desert with nothing but a .45—which holds a single bullet in the chamber. The reader enters Childs’ mind as he struggles to survive and wrestles with the questions of life and death and war.

Ott is not alone in his praise for the novel. The Cleveland Plain Dealer review notes: “This author, a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University, plumbs our bloody natures—memorably and mythically in his incantatory Civil War novel … Coal Black Horse, and again in his latest book, Far Bright Star. … Terrifying and abruptly beautiful, the new novel gleams with a masculine intensity; it is hard to read and hard to put down.”

In a starred review, Kirkus Review states: “The spectacle Olmstead presents is not a pretty one, and its consolations are only for the strong and clear-minded. But the beauty and power of his prose will keep most readers from looking away. Brutal, tender and magnificent.”

Publishers Weekly, also in a starred review, adds: “Olmstead delivers another richly characterized, tightly woven story of nature, inevitability and the human condition. … [His] brilliantly expressive, condensed tale of resilience and dusty determination flows with the kind of literary cadence few writers have mastered.”

Prior to its latest recognition by Booklist, Far Bright Star won the 2010 Western Writers of America Spur Award.

Olmstead, a professor in the Department of English and director of the University’s Creative Writing Program, will lead a theory-to-practice class, “A Writers Retreat: Atlantic Center for the Arts,” in August 2011.

Students will spend 14 days with Olmstead at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where they will use this sustained, supportive, and uninterrupted time to write, read, and share their works in progress.

That sounds like a must-do opportunity for any budding author.

– Gretchen Hirsch