Numerous long-forgotten literary pieces about Washington State once enjoyed wide regional and national readership. Some were bestsellers. The stories they told of coming of age in Seattle, living in a San Juan Island lighthouse, piloting Columbia River paddleboats, and farming on the Palouse captured readers’ imaginations. They offered vivid depictions of the region’s people and places—often with harsh renderings of its previously whitewashed history. While most have fallen out of print and circulation, collectively they reveal an impressive literary legacy.
Salmon Eaters to Sagebrushers gives an informed and careful examination of these “vintage” fiction, nonfiction, and poetry works—all at least 50 years old. Based on his popular Retrospective Review column in the Washington State Historical Society journal Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History, Peter Donahue’s new essay collection is a hybrid of literary criticism, history, and biography, combining reappraisals of more than forty titles with short excerpts and author profiles.
Each of the included authors made notable contributions to Northwest literature. Their novels, memoirs, and poetry—spanning 70 years, from the late 1880s to the mid-1960s—evoke countless aspects of the Northwest. In portraying everyday life, presenting sub-regions such as the Columbia River Basin and Olympic Peninsula, and casting a critical eye on social issues such as white settlement and early industrialization, they reflect how Northwesterners regarded themselves and their region throughout most of the last century—perceptions that continue to shape Northwest identity.
“Donahue’s book brings to life these writers and their stories of the Palouse and the Puget Sound, of the woods and the waters, of the pioneers and the tribes—stories from every corner of the Evergreen State.”—Shawn Vestal, Spokesman Review
“For anyone who loves reading — no matter what you like to read, no matter if you care about local voices or not — Salmon Eaters to Sagebrushers is a joyful collection to delve into as Donahue explores a world of Washington wordsmiths and their work focused between the late 1880s and the 1960s…In Donahue’s hands, these vintage pieces and their authors enjoy a new life.” —Dan Nailen, The Inlander
“The author’s biographical discussions, plot summaries, and thematic evaluations will help readers understand who the writers were, what ideas appealed to them, and how they wrote novels and other works of literature treating the Northwest region.”—Richard Etulain, author of Re-Imagining the Modern American West: A Century of Fiction, History, and Art