Robert Roripaugh is a booklet in the Boise State University Western Writers Series. This slim volume came out in 2004, and it gives an overview of the career of Robert Roripaugh, who has been a major literary figure in Wyoming for many years.
Roripaugh has had a long career as a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Perhaps he has been best known as the Poet Laureate of Wyoming from 1995 to 2002 and for his two collections of poetry, Learn to Love the Haze (1976; 1996) and The Ranch: Wyoming Poetry (2001). Prior to his recognition as a poet, however, he wrote two acclaimed novels, A Fever for Living (1961) and Honor Thy Father (1963). From the 1950’s until the early 2000’s, he also wrote and published short stories, which were brought out in a collection entitled The Legend of Billy Jenks and Other Wyoming Stories (2007).
I undertook the Western Writers study because I thought it was something that ought to be done. I had been familiar with the line for many years, as I had read several of the numbers in the series when I was studying major writers of western fiction for my dissertation. I thought that some day I should try my hand at that kind of a study. When I came to a point at which I had time for such a project, Robert Roripaugh’s work seemed like the ideal topic.
I had become familiar with Roripaugh’s work in the 1980’s. Shortly after I came to Wyoming in 1981, John R. Milton of the South Dakota Review recommended meeting Roripaugh and becoming familiar with his work. Therefore, one day when I was in Laramie, I dropped in on Roripaugh in his office at the University of Wyoming, where he was a professor of literature and creative writing. He was very cordial, and it was the beginning of a valuable friendship. Not long after I met him, I read and studied his novel Honor Thy Father for a funded study I was doing on Wyoming fiction. A year or so after that, I read more of his fiction in preparation for a critical introduction on him for a reference work entitled Twentieth-Century Western Writers (second edition). When I communicated with Roripaugh about this project, he was very helpful and sent me copies of his work and of reviews.
During this time, I also met Roripaugh from time to time at workshops, conferences, and other gatherings of the Wyoming literary community. By the time I undertook to write the Boise booklet, he and I were good friends. Again, he provided me with any the information I needed, plus copies of any work I did not have in my collection. Just as a side note, I would like to note that he is the neatest, most conscientious person I have known when it comes to sending material through the mail.
Writing the booklet was a project
in itself. After proposing it, getting approval, and going to work on it, I came
up with a draft. Then the editor wanted more scholarly apparatus, which I knew
how to include but had not chosen to do, so I produced a second draft in which
I incorporated references to standard secondary sources. Then the editor wanted
me to cut some material because I was running over the standard length for
works in the series. After I did the cutting, I went through the editing, which
was not too bad but a bit curious in the various tweaky format practices that
latter-day literary scholars follow. The work came out on schedule, and in its
own modest way it was well received.
Writing about a friend’s work is an interesting undertaking. Naturally, I would not have chosen to do this study if I didn’t think highly of Roripaugh’s work to begin with, but even at that, my style of literary criticism does not always include only glowing praise. Accordingly, I had a couple of reserved comments about one small thing or another, and I trusted that Roripaugh, who had a lifetime of experience in writing reviews and in being reviewed, would be able to appreciate my position. Still, one worries. In our correspondence I brought up my concern, and Roripaugh was very gracious in assuring me that a comment here or there did not conflict with the larger things that matter.
I was glad to have done this study, and it was very gratifying to bring out this small tribute while Roripaugh was still hearty and hale. I was also glad to be able to have the book available at conferences where other writers who admire Roripaugh and his work were able to acquire copies.
Not long after the booklet came out, Roripaugh had his short story collection accepted for publication with High Plains Press, who had reprinted Learn to Love the Haze. I had the honor of being included in that project, as I wrote a foreword for the collection. I was glad to be able to do that, as I had to cut the discussion of a couple of short stories in the Boise booklet, and now I was able to give the stories the attention they deserved.
So it is with the work of Robert Roripaugh in general. When a person does a project like this, he or she sees from the inside the importance of doing work that needs to be done. Robert Roripaugh has been an important literary figure in Wyoming, and I hope someone comes along and does a better study than I have done, but until that happens, I am glad I did it when I could.
A few years after I wrote the introduction to The Legend of Billy Jenks and Other Wyoming Stories, For those who are interested in Robert Roripaugh, the literature of Wyoming, and similar topics, I contributed an article on Roripaugh in the Wyoming State Historical Society’s online encyclopedia.
In addition to providing basic information about Roripaugh and his career, the article has a photograph of Roripaugh, links, and a useful bibliography (including references to some of my previous work on this worthy author).
This was my second article for this online encyclopedia. The previous one was on Owen Wister.
Robert Roripaugh is available at Amazon.