Alta Picks the Best of the West

A play, a podcast, a train ride, and a farewell: Alta editors select a new batch of favorites.

What the Constitution Means to Me's playwright Heidi Schreck.
What the Constitution Means to Me’s playwright Heidi Schreck.

Playwright Heidi Schreck (pictured right) was a plucky teen from the Apple Capital of the World—Wenatchee, Washington—when she stormed across the country winning enough constitutional debates to fund her University of Oregon tuition. Schreck is all grown up now, but we meet that 15-year-old when the curtain rises on What the Constitution Means to Me, the Broadway hit that comes to Los Angeles’s Mark Taper Forum this winter (and that earned Schreck two Tony nominations). Played by Orange Is the New Black’s Maria Dizzia, Schreck the character teeters between her adolescent and adult selves to deliver a speech pitting the hope of our founding document against its shortcomings—in particular, how it’s failed the women in her family. By making the political personal, and ending on a debate with a teen actor over whether to abolish the Constitution, Schreck the dramatist invites us to consider how we wound up in this American moment and what it means for the next generation. Jan. 12–Feb. 16

Offbeat Oregon History podcast.
Offbeat Oregon History podcast.


Finn J.D. John is a passionate and enthusiastic podcast host whose sweet spot is oddball tales from Oregon’s past. Each 7-to-12-minute Offbeat Oregon History episode tackles an enjoyable slice of the Beaver State’s past, from shipwrecks to child geniuses to quirky gold miners. John’s podcasts, which he’s been releasing on weekday mornings since 2011, are often based on his weekly column (of the same name) that’s published in about a dozen Oregon community newspapers. Each session with John is like having a cup of coffee and catch-up with your favorite history professor—which makes sense: John is on the faculty of the New Media Communications program at Oregon State University.

Amtrak’s California Zephyr
Amtrak’s California Zephyr


Crossing the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains is not for the fainthearted in any season, but in winter? Are you nuts? Not if you’re doing it within the cozy confines of a seat on the California Zephyr. Amtrak’s most spectacular cross-country line leaves Emeryville every morning to make the 2,438-mile journey to Chicago’s Union Station, and winter is an ideal time to hop aboard: You’ll skirt the San Francisco Bay, then crest Donner Pass near the possibly frozen-over Donner Lake before traversing the Nevada and Utah deserts. Next, the route snakes along stunning stretches of the Colorado River and begins the steady climb up, over, and through (there are dozens of underground passages, including the historic 6.2-mile Moffat Tunnel) the snow-kissed Rockies. From Denver, the Zephyr unrolls like a spool of ribbon straight across the midwestern plains to downtown Chicago—but not before crossing the mighty Mississippi. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more scenic winter landscape anywhere in the United States—and no down jacket is required.

Tin House’s final issue.
Tin House’s final issue.


Published quarterly for 20 years, Tin House won acclaim for putting out fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by undiscovered and veteran writers alike, including Alta contributors Joy Lanzendorfer, Ander Monson, and Peter Orner. Numerous Tin House stories have been anthologized (“Breasts” by Stuart Dybek in Best American Short Stories) and lauded with prizes (O. Henry winner “The Particles” by Andrea Barrett). While many periodicals close suddenly, cofounder and editor in chief Win McCormack announced six months in advance that Tin House’s final issue would appear in June 2019—ample time to produce this handsome (if funereal) black volume. Featuring outstanding writers like Aimee Bender and Matthew Zapruder, it’s destined to become a collector’s item. Meanwhile, Tin House lives on through its writing workshops and book-publishing division.

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