The Hard and Unforgiving Life of an Overlooked Nature Writer of the West

Searching for Mary Austin

Genius or not, Austin was ahead of her time when it came to feminism, racial equality, and environmentalism. The Land of Little Rain was her first and most successful book, important in its recognition of the striking austerity of the Owens Valley and the Mojave Desert. While Austin was writing it, her circumstances were as inhospitable as the environment around her. Trapped in poverty and a loveless marriage, she was geographically and spiritually isolated as she juggled caring for her disabled daughter and working full-time as a writer and teacher. She remembered that period as “long dull months of living interspersed between the few fruitful occasions when I actually came into contact with the land.”

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