Redefining the American West: A Conversation with Writer Adam Gnade

Bart Schaneman
American West
Published in
10 min readDec 10, 2018


Adam Gnade at the county fair

Adam Gnade and I have known each other for almost 15 years now. We’ve worked on magazines together, traded manuscripts for editing help and co-wrote books. We’ve moved all over the world but throughout maintained a close correspondence.

We come from different backgrounds. Adam’s from the seashore communities of San Diego, and I grew up in the country in western Nebraska. Two places on the opposite edges of the American West. Two places that couldn’t be more different in weather, geography or people. Two places that share plenty of similarities if you look a little deeper.

As of this writing, neither of us are living in our homelands. Though I’m a little closer geographically to mine, where Adam lives, in rural eastern Kansas, is a lot more like where I’m from. In contrast, Denver has a lot more in common with San Diego when you look at the two cities closely. It’s almost as though we’ve traded the city for the country.

Together and separately over the years we’ve experienced a range of different social and cultural lives in this vast region. From the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the Great Plains and lands in between. The following conversation is about how we define the American West today, the themes that are important to the region and how we approach writing about it.

Bart Schaneman: I’m interested in trying to define what the American West means today. You have the environmental concerns — extreme weather like wildfires and prolonged droughts — and the public land fights like we saw in Nevada and Oregon with the Bundy family. The Trump administration shrinking public lands to allow for mineral and coal mining. The proliferation of wolves in certain areas and the conflict they create. I think those stories are all hugely important to the future of the West, but what do they mean for the identity of the place today?

The history of the Wild West is claimed by a lot of places throughout the region, a history of cowboys, cattle and farming, silver and gold miners. But is that how we think of the West now? Or is that what we mean when we talk about Westerns as a genre?

The time of the cowboy who actually rode on cattle drives was a brief period in the history of our country. Of…