Issue 10: Songs of the New West

alta cover, winter 2020, issue 10



How the West Was Sung

Trail driving can be grueling, monotonous work, leaving cowboys with a lot of time on their hands. One way to pass it? Sharing stories. We drop in on the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to listen to these myths and legends—and some beautiful verse—from five different and talented tellers of tales. By Meredith Lawrence • Photos by Scott Baxter

Watching Out for the Workers

As executive director of the Los Angeles Urban League, Floyd C. Covington made a difference in the lives of the African American workers he fought for—not only in the workplace, but in housing, in education, and at the voting booth. By Catherine Womack


Since the days of Clifford Odets, Hollywood has had a long tradition of making screenwriters out of playwrights—and it hasn’t always ended well. Not so for a new generation of female playwrights who’ve made the transition from the stage to hit TV shows. By Robert Ito • Photos by Christina Gandolfo

A Grave Matter

While researching early anti-immigration movements in Southern California, a reporter stumbles on a racist 1953 headline about a “wetback” killed by police and decides to right a decades-old wrong and return dignity to the victim. By Gustavo Arellano

Thomas Pynchon in His Own Words

The legendary (and legendarily private) writer of V., Gravity’s Rainbow, and Inherent Vice would have so much to say...if only he’d talk. A Pynchon obsessive imagines how the conversation would unfold. By David Kipen

Abandoned But Not Forgotten

Few locations evoke the Old West more than the many ghost towns that dot the Rocky Mountain range. A writer remembers spending time with her family in one of them, and explores what attracts us to these haunted places.By Laura Fraser • Photos by Gordon Wiltsie

The Felling of a Founder

He had a deep understanding of the complicated ins and outs of land grabs as California left Mexican rule and was becoming its own state. Could that knowledge have led to the mysterious 1851 death of Francisco Guerrero, a civic leader of early San Francisco? By Gary Kamiya

Alta Solves a Cold Case!

The Well of the Scribes sculpture from L.A.’s Central Library had been missing for 50 years. That was until an antiques dealer read Alta’s story about the artwork and realized he had a piece of it sitting in his Bisbee, Arizona, shop. Now the question is: Where is the rest of it? By Brandon R. Reynolds


When it comes to eating out in the Emerald City, tech money has infused Seattle with more mojo than ever. But don’t let that intimidate you: the city’s got something for every palate-—and every price point. By Michael Bauer • Photos by John Lok

PORTFOLIO: Rock of Ages

Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire at Monterey Pop, Carlos Santana lighting up the stage at Altamont: Bay Area photographer Jim Marshall may have been self-taught, but he captured some of rock’s biggest artists at their brightest moments during his storied career. Photography by Jim Marshall

FICTION: “Ribs, muscle, bone”

Watching the dissolution of her parents’ relationship, a butcher’s daughter learns lessons about life and love. By Susan Straight



A native daughter smokes out the ramifications of legalized pot in her hometown. By Joy Lanzendorfer


L.A.’s Tim Bovard is the only full-time museum taxidermist left in America. By James Bartlett

Finding Space

A Monterey program (spreading across California) offers overnight parking and social services to people living in their cars. By Bonnie Tsui

Music Behind Bars

Los Tigres del Norte reprise Johnny Cash’s 1968 visit to Folsom State Prison. By Gustavo Arellano

Drink It In

It’s a miracle—and a little secret—that a Native American sacred spring has existed in West L.A. for centuries. By Denise Hamilton


Treating depression with ketamine may cost $6,000 a pop, but some in Hollywood—and the author—are giving it a try. By Quinn Cummings


"Cold, Clear" and "Paint." By Jane Hirshfield


Piece Talks

What makes Rebecca Solnit’s essays so popular? That they’re probably so right. And that’s a problem. By Amanda Fortini


In Savage Appetites, Rachel Monroe digs into women’s obsession with crime. By Claire Dederer


Attica Locke’s new mystery offers a consequential commentary on contemporary politics. By Charles Finch

A Brine Predicament

The Salton Sea is one weird place. That may be why so many works of literature keep trying so hard to figure it out. By Tod Goldberg

Art: Special 2020 Preview


Singular visions define a spate of shows in L.A. that celebrate work that is politically charged but not overtly political. By Scott Timberg


Climate change is upon us, so two S.F. shows ponder what’s on tap for humans, from floating cities to intergalactic getups and jetpacks. By Jessica Zack


Two LGBTQ shows—one for a long-established photographer, the other for an emerging multimedia artist—come to Portland. By Stephanie Snyder

SEATTLE: Equal Footing

What role do arts institutions play in supporting gender equity? Three Seattle exhibitions seek answers to the question. By Ashley Stull Meyers



A new production of Frankenstein uses the audience to help tell this tragic story. By Chris Martins

Hades Is Happening

Matthew Aucoin’s Eurydice at LA Opera provides a wild ride down under. By Jordan Riefe

Decisive Decade

Ten years after the original series ended, a sequel to The L Word shifts its focus to East L.A.
By Marcela Davison Avilés

London Calling

Forthcoming adaptations of The Call of the Wild and Martin Eden reveal Jack London as a master of adventure. By Dennis Harvey

Cover Stories

Hedley & Bennett aprons provide a much-needed makeover for chefs. By Ed Leibowitz

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