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The Blank Spot on the Map

William Least Heat-Moon and Bioregionalism

Shellie Banga

William Least Heat-Moon is a contemporary American writer well known for his first best-seller, Blue Highways (1982), and for his numerous subsequent contributions to road narratives. His second book, however, departs from this model by producing a “deep map” of a single Kansas county. Drawing upon recent ecocriticism, I argue that although Heat-Moon is often classified as a local color journalist, PrairyErth (a deep map) (1991) suggests why he is also an unlikely bioregionalist who unsettles wasteful approaches to governing local ecosystems. With a painterly habit of focusing on absence, Heat-Moon uses negative space and what he calls “skewed vision” to reveal place indirectly. By understanding that these techniques are metonymic, we also understand something about bioregionalism and travel writing in general: these genres not only register absences and symbolic substitutions, but teach us about the intimacy and interdependence of a modern life in which isolation is a fiction.