One day in the winter of 1978, William Trogdon learned that his part-time job teaching English at Stevens College in Columbia, Missouri, was to end because of declining enrollment. The same day after speaking on the phone with his wife, from whom he had been separated for nine months, he sensed that the chances of a reconciliation with her were unlikely. Lying awake that night, the author recounts, the idea came to him of making a circuit of the back roads of the United States, as much to preserve his dignity as to survey the country’s land and people. Blue Highways is Trogdon’s account of his journey, which began on March 19 and lasted into the summer.
Trogdon was then thirty-eight years old, and he had held various teaching jobs while pursuing a Ph.D. in literature and a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism at the University of Missouri. Although he was not yet a published author, Trogdon’s background in American history and literature, combined with his photographic skills, prepared him to approach contemporary American life from both literary and journalistic perspectives.
Another aspect of Trogdon’s background has particular significance in Blue Highways: his Native American ancestry, which is the source of his authorial name, William Least Heat-Moon. The name is not a pseudonym, since he derives it from a name his father uses, “Heat-Moon,” a Sioux Indian phrase for the month of July. William’s elder brother claimed the name Little Heat-Moon; thus, “Least Heat-Moon” is a complete name to which the author has added his legal first name. Heat-Moon writes in Blue Highways that history has judged a “mixed blood” to be a “contaminated man” who has always had to choose against one of his bloodlines. Although the author rejects this attitude, the history and memory of the conflict of red and white men...
(The entire section is 767 words.)