I received some news yesterday that was not unexpected: the 2020 Western History Association Conference will be conducted entirely online. The good news here is that the entire conference (including both of my panels) will be held digitally, and all panels will be recorded and uploaded for future viewing. It will also be free to all WHA members, so if you’re interested in checking out what the Western History Association does . . . why not kick a few bucks their way to support historical scholarship on the American West and join? You’ll get a quarterly journal and a really nice tote bag (I have a collection of them from past conferences). Anyway, given the number of conferences canceled over the spring (including another one I was supposed to do in Michigan), I am relieved that the WHA 2020 will be a sure thing this fall.
Of course, that’s the good news. The bad news is that none of us will be meeting in Albuquerque this October, or for that matter probably leaving our houses. No evening drinks with old friends and colleagues. No New Mexican-style food or dinner at Papa Felipe’s (which in my opinion is the best regional cuisine in the United States . . . no contest). No annual UCLA alumni brunch. No face-to-face networking. No chance encounters with world renowned scholars. And no book launch parties, complete with warm brie and autographed copies of my new book.
Conferences are an integral part of any academic book launch. Attendees usually hang out in “the book room,” which is a large gallery of various publishers and other groups who set up tables containing the latest and greatest books in our field. During my first few years going to conferences, they were a place for me to chat with editors and senior historians. During the last few years, they’ve become a place to bump into friends I’ve made over the years, while still making time to catch up with various editors and others. And this year, I was looking forward to seeing my own book on the table, and possibly taking some time to “officially” launch it. Conference-goers get a hefty discount on all the books there, and people attending my panels would no doubt learn about my book once I start to talk.
However, like the WHA Conference itself, I will not let COVID-19 get in the way of me celebrating the publication of my book, which was the result of a lot of hard work on my part and the publisher’s. So, to that end, I am exploring some alternative possibilities for getting a bit more exposure, including the possibility of a “virtual” book launch. Do YOU have any ideas for what I can or should do? Please leave me a comment or some other suggestion!
One thing I will do, starting right now, is begin planning an online exhibition of some of my Nebraska and Great Plains photography. Since my book will not have any full color photos, I will include those photos that I have taken here in color, along with a little bit of narration about the photo and what I was doing or where I was when I took it. I am also doing this because I am canceling my planned flight to Nebraska to take and document a “Horse Thief Road Trip” through some of my favorite sites in Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming. I was really looking forward to the journey, and to being able to fly my drone around the Plains . . . but, alas, it would not be safe, advisable, or even kosher at the moment to make such a gratuitous trip. But I do have a ton of photos from my previous trips to the Plains, and a place to showcase them. I will begin making these posts in September, in advance of the book coming out, but in the meantime here is one of my favorites:
This is a photo of the towering Buffalo Bill cutout at Fort Cody, a
tourist attraction glorified gift shop along Interstate 80 in North Platte, Nebraska. It’s worth a visit if you’re ever passing through the area . . . that’s where I bought my dad a roll of John Wayne toilet paper. But they have more than just souvenirs, including a miniature, animatronic Wild West show with a cast of thousands of individual pieces. It’s a cool thing to see, especially after driving across the Plains for several hours.
Anyway, this shot isn’t my best (e.g., it does not follow the rule of thirds), but to be fair this cutout is absolutely enormous. It towers over the parking lot, much like how the man it depicts towers over Western culture and the Western genre itself. And I love the bright blue sky behind it . . . imagine that slightly marshmallowy azure extending toward the horizon in every direction, above a grassy and barely peopled land, and you can imagine yourself in the Great Plains.
Hopefully enough people buy the book so that there will be a paperback edition to hawk, thus giving me another legitimate, professional excuse to visit this surreal, sublime place. And if that happens, then next time it will be the book launching me . . . perhaps back to North Platte, or to some other place under that endless sapphire Nebraska sky.