The Old West occupies a relatively short era in U.S. history, from just after the Civil War to about 1890, when America "came of age" as a settled nation, moving from open frontier to closed, from territories to states.
Set smack dab in the middle of this legendary era is the story told in Charles Portis' Western novel True Grit, which is the subject of the Library's Big Read, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and bring transformative power into the lives of citizens.
To get the ball rolling, scholar Tom Averill explores how True Grit explores that time period and the characteristics that unite all Western novels in True Grit as True Grist for Exploring the Western Novel on Wednesday, September 25, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W 10th St.
The "coming of age" theme is present in many Westerns, where heroes and heroines (like True Grit's young Mattie Ross) are tested to reveal their strengths and weaknesses. During this same era, the U.S. was tested with issues of diversity and racism, violence and genocide, and justice.
And since characters so often reflect country, True Grit allows readers to witness the American spirit of that time.
The Western is charged with freedom, danger, individuality, and the possibility of violence -- and yet nearly every classic Western ends with service, settlement, safety, companionship, and even love. Such ironies, explored with sensitivity and humor in True Grit, remain relevant as Americans move into the 21st century.
Averill is a professor of English at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, where he is writer-in-residence. He is the author of three novels: rode (2011), Secrets of the Tsil Café (2001), and The Slow Air of Ewan MacPherson (2003). He has received the O. Henry Award for his short story collections.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and bring its transformative power into the lives of citizens. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment.
Admission is free. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. Free parking is available in the Library District Parking Garage at 10th and Baltimore. RSVP at kclibrary.org  or call 816.701.3407.