Four historical narratives, Russian fatalism and strong ties to his family’s pioneering and Native American heritage drive Howard W. Robertson’s newest work, Peculiar Pioneer. He and several other local writers will be reading from their recent work Sunday, Sept. 28, at the inaugural Lane Writer’s Reading Series event.
Pioneer takes place during the Oregon Trail days, and Isaac McClure, its main character, is inspired by the real pioneer Andrew McClure and his travel journal. The real McClure was a member in a wagon train led in 1853 by Robertson’s great-great-great grandparents that ended in Eugene, then called Eugene City.
Born in Oregon of a Scottish pioneer father and a Chinook slave mother, an orphaned Isaac McClure makes his way to St. Louis, where he fixes wagons headed to Oregon. He ends up beginning anew and vying for a slice of his own white-privilege-approved piece of land, finding himself on a wagon train headed to Oregon.
“He’s seeing it as a homecoming sorts, while they see it as an adventure into the unknown,” Robertson says. “It’s a whole different perspective.” McClure must hide his past to gain acceptance, even from his new wife and family.
Robertson’s background as a historian and Cherokee heritage shine through in Pioneer as he combines historical narratives from John R. Jewitt, Ranald MacDonald, Royal Bensell and Andrew McClure to paint a realistic portrait of the wagon trail days in his depictions of pioneers as well as of Native Americans.
According to Robertson, who has a background in Slavic studies, McClure has a bad case of sud’ba, the Russian term for inescapable fate. Throughout the book he struggles to do the right thing but faces endless obstacles stacked against him, whether it be racist pioneers or a bad turn of events. “He has an American attitude with a Russian historical reality,” Robertson says.
Robertson will be reading excerpts of his book Peculiar Pioneer at the new Lane Writer’s Reading Series, which he founded with fellow poet Joan Dobbie. “There’s so much talent here,” Dobbie says of Lane County’s literary community. “It’s something that we’ve needed.”
Dobbie will also be reading at the first event from her book Woodstock Baby, Made in Boston, which she describes as a “love poem to Boston.” Dobbie says that the poems are meant to be read from cover to cover, telling a linear story through verse.
Also reading will be Carter McKenzie, a local poet and teacher, and Alice Evans, communications specialist at the UO Center for the Study of Women in Society, author and journalist. The Lane Writer’s Reading Series will take place at 4:30 pm on the fourth Sunday of every month at the River Road Annex at 1055 River Rd. Attendance is free.