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Bruce Cutler, Poet, on Journalistic Subjectivity and the American 19th Century, 1996


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Bruce Cutler was an American poet who wrote narrative long poems on subjects ranging from the settling of the American frontier to gangs in Chicago. His first book, The Year of the Green Wave, was published in 1960 and was followed over the next 40 years by a dozen more. The Massacre at Sand Creek told the story of the massacre of hundreds of Cheyenne by the U.S. Cavalry; published in 1995 and nominated for a National Book Award, the poem explained the attack from several points of view including the officer who led the assault, an officer who refused to let his men fire on the Indians and the Cheyenne themselves. Born in Evanston, Ill., Cutler was a conscientious objector to military service in the early 1950s and, after a legal challenge, performed alternate service in Mexico and El Salvador. A graduate of the University of Iowa, Cutler taught English at Wichita State, where he founded the school’s creative writing program. Cutler’s last book, At War With Mexico: A Fictional Mosaic, came out a week before his death on March 24, 2001, in Santa Cruz.

In this interview, Cutler touches on the past presence of subjectivity in journalism, relates it to the work of fiction writers. He considers his work on The Massacre at Sand Creek and contrasts the 19th century’s invisibility in literature with its lasting influence on American racial and social attitudes.

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