Aggressive Regionalism: Commentary

1. James Stevens and H. L. Davis, Status Rerum

James Stevens and H. L. Davis met in Corvallis, Oregon, in January 1927 when they both attended a reading by Carl Sandburg at the Oregon Agricultural College (as Oregon State University was then known). The two became fast friends and by autumn had produced Status Rerum. The pamphlet was ostensibly written, surely with the help of a few drinks, in a Eugene hotel room that Davis had rented. Stevens and Davis sent the manuscript to a publisher in Portland, who rejected it quickly. So the two authors “published approximately two hundred copies of the manifesto at their own expense and mailed copies to the newspapers and literary men they could think of throughout the entire region.” By the 1960s original copies of Status Rerum were scarce enough that they had become collectors’ items, and one scholar deduced, “Very likely, most of the copies were thrown into wastebaskets during the first few days after the pamphlets were received” (Clare 1970: 22-25, 25n).

Status Rerum was not widely welcomed into the world, then—in part no doubt because it attacked too many leading figures indiscreetly, and in part because its style and preferences found favor with few in the Northwest in the later 1920s. But Stevens and Davis hardly stood alone in their feelings about regional literature. Others in the Northwest also wished to hold regional writing to higher standards, and even Col. E. Hofer of The Lariat—much despised by Stevens and Davis—shared the goal of bringing greater attention to authors in his far corner of the country.  In retrospect, students of the history of Northwest writing have correctly identified Status Rerum as emblematic of a turning point in regional literature. So a pamphlet that was scorned by many in its own time is now broadly seen as a kind of charter document of the Northwest’s literary identity, a symbol of the region coming into its own (Clare 1970; Love 1981; Love 1993: xviii; Venn 1979:105; Simonson 1980:149).

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