I Am a Stranger Here Myself
An exploration of what it means to be a Woman of the West, then and now

The latest memoir from Debra Gwartney

Book cover with the title and, in the background, an images of a double-track dirt road through sagebrush rising up to a horizon with short trees and by Debra Gwarteney

Part history, part memoir, I Am a Stranger Here Myself taps the deepest dimensions of human yearning: the need to belong, the snarl of family history, and embracing womanhood in the patriarchal American West. Debra Gwartney becomes fascinated with the missionary Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, the first Caucasian woman to cross the Rocky Mountains and one of fourteen people killed at the Whitman Mission in 1847 by a band of Cayuse. Whitman’s role as a white woman drawn in to “settle” the West reflects the tough-as-nails women in Gwartney’s own family. Arranged in four sections as a series of interlocking explorations and ruminations, Gwartney uses Whitman as a touchstone to spin a tightly woven narrative about identity, the power of womanhood, and coming to peace with one’s most cherished place.

Review I Am a Stranger Here Myself

Advanced Praise for
I Am a Stranger Here Myself

“Debra Gwartney has followed her stunning Live Through This with the valuable and fascinating saga of Narcissa Whitman. Whitman, trying to ‘save’ others, lost much. Gwartney, on a similar path, discovers much. I’m grateful for this book and find the both characters and their stories equally complex and of great worth in these troubled times.”

— Rick Bass, author twenty-six books, most recently, The Traveling Feast: On the Road and at the Table with My Heroes

“For women, the West can be a two-hearted place—a place of belonging and alienation, a place of history and its erasure. In this brilliant exploration of what it means to be a woman of the West, Debra Gwartney interweaves her own story with that of Narcissa Whitman. The result is a beautiful hybrid—a genre-busting book that takes a profound, relatable, and riveting look at Western identity, then and now.”

— Claire Dederer, author of Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning and Lannan Foundation fellow

“In this elegant and searching memoir Debra Gwartney stakes a claim on the American West—for herself, for her subject, Narcissa Whitman, and for any woman struggling to justify her presence where she is not welcome. This book, brimming with humanity, shows not just what it means to be a woman of the West, but what it means to be human.”

— Valerie Laken, author of Separate Kingdoms: Stories and Dream House

“The judges of this year’s River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize particularly noted Gwartney’s gift for sustained, deeply descriptive metaphors that reveal the writer’s dangerous joy at unlocking memory and history and at opening it to the reader on the page.”

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