Masculinities in Literature of the American West

By Hailey Austin

Lydia R. Cooper’s Masculinities in Literature of the American Westreleased in January by Palgrave Macmillan, is part of the Global Masculinities series edited by Michael S. Kimmel and Judith Kegan Gardiner. The book challenges the notion of manliness in the American Western by examining contemporary authors, such as Cormac McCarthy and Leslie Marmon Silko.

“My research interests in Cormac McCarthy, Native American literature, contemporary western and southwestern literature, and gender and queer theory led to this book, which ties all of those threads together,” Cooper said.

In fact, these interests and subsequent contemporary authors expose the pervasive anxieties about what it means to “act like a man,” she explained, especially in light of the hyper-masculinized ideal of the American cowboy.

The book has received some glowing reviews. Daniel Worden, an associate professor of English at the University of New Mexico, writes that Cooper’s book, “draws from contemporary scholarship in masculinity studies and Western American literary studies to convincingly argue that ‘cowboy masculinity’ in contemporary literature cannot be reduced to one, simple meaning or identity.” 

“Cooper demonstrates through lucid close readings that contemporary Westerns grapple with, reject, and offer alternatives to hegemonic manhood and the imperialist violence that underwrote the formation of the normative genre Western,” Worden adds. “This book offers an exciting account of how we can think about the Western today.”

Cooper, who became a member of Phi Beta Kappa at Baylor University in 2008, currently serves on the members-in-course committee and the event planning committee for Creighton University’s Beta of Nebraska chapter.

“I was honored to be part of Creighton University’s installation as a new chapter of Phi Beta Kappa,” said Cooper. “Being able to help inaugurate the chapter here at Creighton has emphasized for me the importance of Phi Beta Kappa, an organization that illuminates and celebrates the significance of the liberal arts in higher education.”

Cooper’s first book No More Heroes: Narrative Perspective and Morality in Cormac McCarthy (2011) is critically acclaimed and among one of the leading works in McCarthy studies. She also has numerous, often cited articles on the author. In addition to her two books and various articles, Cooper is also an accomplished fiction writer. Her novel My Second Death is well reviewed on and Goodreads.

Though this is not her first publication as a Phi Beta Kappa author, Cooper’s perspective on the organization has changed. “ΦBK connects academic achievement to the lofty goal of being a well-rounded citizen of the world,” she said. “This attitude encourages my scholarly pursuits and my teaching, and I am pleased to work with students who are current and future members of this organization.”

Hailey Austin is a senior at Creighton University majoring in English and Spanish with a minor in history. Creighton University is home to the Beta of Nebraska Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.