I Am a Stranger Here Myself
Debra Gwartney
 2017 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize winner
“What you can learn about yourself through family history?”  Debra Gwartney has written a memoir that reads like a historical novel.  This is the story of how one family found a place to belong in the American West and Idaho in particular.  Debra was in search of herself through her family history and through a woman named Narcissa Prentiss Whitman and her mission in 1847 finds her (Debra’s) identity in many ways.  The cover art to this historical account of one’s historical family roots is one that makes one want to venture west and see this state know as Idaho with the winding road through the mountains even if through shades of gray.
Debra learns about herself through her Grandma Lois and Grandpa Bob, an old school teacher and a farmer.  Families are like puzzles to figure out who we are and one must look to the past for the answers.  She has read and learned about Idaho history and its’ geography from the Cayuse and Shoshone Indian tribes.  ‘I Am a Stranger Here Myself’ is a nonfiction novel written also as a memoir and through reading this memoir, the readers, can see how family history can affect our current lives and show us where we fit within our various societies.  Debra’s novel does this very well and this memoir could be used by social workers and counselors when helping various clients dealing with adoption issues, depression and anxiety issues.  We can all learn various lessons while reading this historical account of one family’s relationships to the present.


Part history, part memoir, I Am a Stranger Here Myself taps dimensions of human yearning: the need to belong, the snarl of family history, and embracing womanhood in the patriarchal American West. 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 Cayuse Indians. 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.

About the Author

Born in Salmon, Idaho, a fifth generation Idahoan, Debra Gwartney is the winner of the 2018 RiverTeeth Nonfiction Prize, judged by Gretel Ehrlich.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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