Program

Except if noted otherwise, all the events are happening at the Leonard Faculty & Graduate Room of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno campus.

Signing-up is required only for the academic conference
All events are free and open to the public

Monday, March 11

4.00 PM. Book Presentation: Celestina Urza by David Romtvedt
Knowledge Center Rotunda

Tuesday, March 12

4.00 PM. Book Presentation: Bufalotarrak by David Romtvedt
Knowledge Center Rotunda

Wednesday, March 13

9.00 AM. Frank Bergon
Introduction

9.30 AM. William Heath (Mount Saint Mary’s University)
“The Real Thing: Authenticity in Frank Bergon’s Fiction”

The word “author” is related to “authority” and “authenticity.”  Frank Bergon’s novels are distinguished by his ability to craft realistic fictive worlds that reveal important truths about the human condition.  All four are vividly situated in the Great Basin area where Bergon grew up and are undergirded by personal experiences, research in archives, and interviews with participants in the events he describes.  Each novel features an “anachronistic” way of life whose values are controversial—Shoshone Mike’s roving band of renegades, St. Ed and Brother S’s attempt to revive a centuries-old monastic tradition, Billy Crockett’s determination to survive as a mountain man beyond the law, and Jesse Floyd’s prowess as a fighter and womanizer.  The artistic success of these works is based on credible characters, the evocation of specific places, and the dramatization of clashing values.  Bergon’s characters don’t just talk, they talk back to each other, and thus show how their points of view are at odds, leaving it to the reader, in effect, to referee.  Usually the proponents of anachronistic lifesyles are opposed by complex characters we can admire (although each is flawed), and for the most part the conflicts end badly: fifteen people are killed during the tragic saga of Shoshone Mike, and main characters meet violent deaths in the other novels as well.  Whether these lives and deaths matter, of course, is where Bergon’s artistry comes in, his authority as an author to tell compelling tales about authentic people and places we believe in and care about.

10.15 AM. Break

10.30 AM. Monika Madinabeitia (Mondragon University)
“The Basque World of Frank Bergon’s Fiction”

Bergon’s fiction exposes the enduring legacy of the Old West despite the official closure of the frontier in 1890. Autobiographies, pulp fiction, humour, and tall tales that mainly dominated the literature after the closing of the frontier consolidated the perpetuation of certain images that became stereotypical in the West and about the West. These images primarily highlighted the colourful icons that embellished the West. Other Wests, though, were neglected and their voices unheard. Bergon did not know what a Basque was when he was growing up; but when he found out, being Basque in America became a growing interest to him. His four novels certainly manifest that he knows the Basque American landscape. It shows. First and ongoing-generation Basques in remote areas of the West, a land with plenty of nowhere, are artfully represented in his narrative – this time, however, the images are unromantic and unembellished. They are real people that convey the many American Wests.

11.15 AM. Joseba Zulaika (University of Nevada, Reno)
“Apocalypse and Transfiguration in Nevada’s Nuclear Test Site: Frank Bergon’s Desert Spirituality”

The paper will examine the spiritual dimension and social activism of Bergon’s novel “The Temptations of St. Ed & Brother S” and how this literary work delves into the dilemmas of activists who are both religious and politically minded in a combination of desert spirituality and antinuclear protest that has now extended to anti drone warfare.

12.00 PM. Break

1.30 PM. Sylvan Goldberg (Colorado College)
“Fictive Truths: Frank Bergon’s Literary Critique in a Post-Truth World”

We live, Frank Bergon writes in a recent essay titled “Our Age of Sincere Inauthenticity,” in a moment in which “authenticity doesn’t matter” and a version of selfhood as pure performance, unmoored from stable truth, dominates popular culture. If such a world has reached its apotheosis with the Trump administration, it is one to which Frank Bergon has been calling our attention throughout his critical career. Across five decades of literary critique, Bergon has repeatedly examined the ties between imagination and material conditions in Western American and environmental literature, presenting a vision of U.S. culture in which fiction and fact operate in reciprocal relation to continually remake the world we inhabit. In his accounts of the literature of John Burroughs (“[f]or experience to become real it must pass through the imagination and the process of writing itself”), Stephen Crane (“one of the few writers in the late nineteenth century to recognize how the myth of the West had become part of its historical reality”), Dagoberto Gilb (“[n]o one is quite as they seem in this world, where the filtered illumination through a teenager’s limited perceptions and emotions is like having a rheostat gradually turned up in a dim room”), and even the U.S. West itself (“these mythic figures offered Westerners something to live up to”), Bergon redefined authenticity while only occasionally invoking it, emphasizing not just the power of historical fact in shaping literary representations of the U.S. West but the ability of imagination to construct both historical knowledge and material spaces such as those called “wilderness.” Our current post-truth moment—dominated by alternative facts and a U.S. president ripped from “reality” television—thus necessitates a return to the critical legacy of Bergon and his vision of fictive truth. Invoking imagination not over, nor as, but in tandem with truth, Bergon helps us to see not just how the relation between fiction and fact has grown so imbalanced in our current historical moment, but how literature might chart a path forward in the aftermath of a post-truth world.

2.15 PM. Zeese Papanikolas (San Francisco Art Institute)
“Unheard Voices of Okie California in Jesse’s Ghost

In Jesse’s Ghost we hear the voices of California’s Dust Bowl migrants in a new way, because we hear them rising from their history.  Lumped together under the pejorative term Okies, these refugees in their own land arrived in the San Joaquin valley bringing little but their rural pasts and an ethic of work, toughness and sometimes violence.   Jesse’s Ghost is centered on the lives of two of these Okie children in their high school and subsequent years as they fight their way into adulthood first as friends and ultimately, and tragically,  as rivals.   Under the nostalgia and sense of loss that haunt so much of Bergon’s novel, nature speaks in whispers,  and its voice, too,  is one to which we must attend.

3.00 PM. Break

3.30 PM. Visit to the Basque Library

6.00 PM. Presentation of the book by Monika Madinabeitia and Frank Bergon: Petra, My Basque Grandmother
Basque Dancing performance
Wells Fargo Auditorium

Thursday, March 14

10.00 AM. Xabier Irujo (University of Nevada, Reno)
Introduction

10:15 AM. Iñaki Arrieta Baro (University of Nevada, Reno)
“Frank Bergon’s Papers: A Multifaceted Archival Collection”

The Frank Bergon’s Literary and Archival Collection provides access to the papers, pictures, and manuscripts generated and compiled by Frank Bergon during his career. Besides giving us an insider’s view of the development of Frank’s works, it provides us with the opportunity to explore the connections among his multicultural family and literary network.

11.00 AM. David Rio (University of the Basque Country)
“Frank Bergon’s Western and Basque American Heroes: Deconstructing Archetypes”

The main aim of this paper is to explore the role of both western and Basque-American heroes in Frank Bergon’s fiction, with a particular emphasis on Bergon’s departure from archetypal views of male heroes related to frontier mythology or to Basque idiosyncrasy and experiences in the American West. It is argued that Bergon’s novels challenge stereotypical portraits of the western hero, rejecting simplistic binary models (e.g.: good vs. evil) and vindicating complex features in the configuration of the main protagonists of these stories. Particular attention will be paid to issues of masculine individualism, toughness, and physical strength and their problematic representation in Bergon’s fiction, especially in connection with the foundational myths of the West and traditional male Basque patterns. Bergon’s deconstruction of traditional cowboy heroism, exposing its artificiality and ethnocentrism, not only offers a more realistic view of the American West, but it also contributes significantly to the increasing recognition and vitality of contemporary western American literature.

11.45 AM. Break

1.30 PM. Nancy Cook (University of Montana)
“Long Shadows Across the Valley: Regarding Difference in Frank Bergon’s California”

In California’s central valley, industrial agriculture has produced a culture both deeply diverse and socially hierarchical while providing commodities for world export.  Workers from around the world came to the Central Valley, and with each generation, some moved up the economic and social food chain, some slipped down, some were deported, some escaped, some hobbled away, looking for work elsewhere. In a cluster of essays, the novel Jesse’s Ghost, and the forthcoming nonfiction book Two-Buck Chuck & the Marlboro Man: The New Old West, Frank Bergon reads the ways in which legacies of difference have both lethal and redemptive consequences. Bergon’s California writing engages many kinds of difference: historical, hierarchical, perspectival, embodied, as it also posits the legacies of difference as they play out in one small section of the great Central Valley. In the process, Bergon reveals the complex relationships between Old and New Wests.  My essay provides both context and analysis of the ways in which difference functions, with a focus on embodied difference, especially in terms of social class.

2.15 PM. David Means (Vassar College)
“Frank Bergon: Dreaming the American West”

Through the imagination, through the process of envisioning and dreaming fiction, Bergon has explored the nature of violence in the West, from the wider, mythologized historical violence in Shoshone Mike, to the ritualized, deeply personal violence in Jesse’s Ghost.  The structures of these two novels mirror two separate modes, two separate concerns arising from Bergon’s academic and personal life.  The wider view of Shoshone Mike, rooted in his historical documents and brought back to a historical context in the novel’s afterwards and the narrower personal, first-person confessional voice of Jesse’s Ghost, form bookends to Bergon’s unique search—from his friendship with the original Marlboro man, Darrell Winfield, to his critique of Joan Didion, to his love of boxing—for his own place in western history.  Only through fiction—I’ll argue—can the historical and the personal meld.  Bergon’s academic work, his study of history and culture of the West, his life as a ranch kid in California, have played a powerful role in his creative process. Bergon’s interest in the complex ritual of the fistfight, and the boxing match, and his intensely devout attention and appreciation for the truth of his own biography and, in turn, countering, the facts of history, have allowed him to explore the complex relationship—a vibrating flux—between the personal and the historical.

3.00 PM. Final remarks

6.00 PM. “A Basque Voice in the New West: Frank Bergon in Conversation with David Rio and Monika Madinabeitia”
Wells Fargo Auditorium

Basque-Nevadan author and professor Frank Bergon will talk about Basque aspects of his new book, Two-Buck Chuck & The Marlboro Man: The New Old West, followed by a  conversation with scholars Monika Madinabeitia and David Río, about his life and work as a Western and Basque American writer.