William Least Heat-Moon

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William Least Heat-Moon
Least Heat-Moon at the Seattle Public Library (2008)
Least Heat-Moon at the Seattle Public Library (2008)
BornWilliam Lewis Trogdon
(1939-08-27) August 27, 1939 (age 83)
Kansas City, Missouri
OccupationTravel writer, historian
EducationBA, MA, Ph.D. in English
BJ in photojournalism
Alma materUniversity of Missouri
GenreDeep map, travel literature
Notable worksBlue Highways

William Least Heat-Moon (born William Lewis Trogdon August 27, 1939) is an American travel writer and historian of English, Irish, and Osage ancestry. He is the author of several books which chronicle unusual journeys through the United States, including cross-country trips by boat (River-Horse, 1999) and, in his best known work (1982's Blue Highways), about his journey in a 1975 Ford Econoline van.[1]


William Trogdon was born in Kansas City, Missouri. The Trogdon family name comes from his Euro-American lineage, and the Heat-Moon name reflects his Osage lineage. William's father is Heat-Moon, his elder brother is Little Heat-Moon, and he is Least Heat-Moon.[2] Least Heat-Moon grew up in Missouri where he attended public schools. He attended the University of Missouri, earning a bachelor's degree in 1961, a masters in 1962, and a PhD in 1972 (all in English). He later went back and completed a bachelor's in photojournalism at MU in 1978.[3] Least Heat-Moon was a member of the Beta-Theta chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon. He later served as a professor of English at the university.[citation needed]

Least Heat-Moon resides in Boone County near the Missouri River.[citation needed]


Blue Highways (1982) is a chronicle of a three-month-long road trip that Least Heat-Moon took throughout the United States in 1978 after he had lost his teaching job and been separated from his first wife. He tells how he traveled 13,000 miles, as much as possible on secondary roads, and tried to avoid cities. These roads were often drawn on maps in blue in the old-style Rand McNally road atlas, hence the book title. Living out of his van, he visited small towns such as Nameless, Tennessee; Hachita, New Mexico; and Bagley, Minnesota, to find places in America untouched by fast food chains and interstate highways. The book records his search for something greater than himself and includes memorable encounters in roadside cafés. This memoir was very popular, making the New York Times bestseller list in 1982–83 for 42 weeks. It was also the winner of a Christopher Award in 1984.[4]

PrairyErth: A Deep Map (1991) is an account of the history and people of Chase County, Kansas. This work introduced the concept of a deep map.

River-Horse (1999) is Least Heat-Moon's account of a four-month coast-to-coast boat trip across the U.S. in which he traveled almost exclusively on the nation's waterways from the Atlantic to the Pacific. During this nearly 5,000-mile journey, he followed documented routes recorded by early explorers such as Henry Hudson and the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Columbus in the Americas (2002) is a brief history of Christopher Columbus's journeys.

Roads to Quoz (2008) is another "road book." This covers "not one long road trip, but a series of shorter ones"[5] taken over the years between books. Robert Sullivan of the New York Times Book Review commented that Least Heat-Moon celebrates "serendipity and joyous disorder."[5]

Here, There, Elsewhere (2013) is a collection of Least Heat-Moon's best short-form travel writing.

An Osage Journey to Europe 1827-1830 (2013) was translated and edited by Least Heat-Moon and James K Wallace. It is the account of six Osage people who traveled to Europe in 1827, accompanied by three Americans.

Writing 'Blue Highways' (2014) is an account of how Least Heat-Moon wrote his best-selling book Blue Highways. In reflecting on the journey, he also discusses writing, publishing, personal relationships, and many other aspects that went into writing the book. It won an award for Distinguished Literary Achievement, Missouri Humanities Council, 2015.

Celestial Mechanics: A Tale for a Mid-Winter Night (2017) is William Least Heat-Moon's debut novel.



Least Heat-Moon's works focus very heavily upon the theme of Ecocentrism. Because his best known work centers on different methods of traversing the North American landscape, one might say that the ecosystem serves as a necessary foundation for Least Heat-Moon's writings. Jonathan Levin, Professor of English at the University of Mary Washington, labels Least Heat-Moon a “literary naturalist."[6] Specifically, he attempts to illustrate a hybrid relationship between humans and the environment and how each entity influences the other.[7] Nature is presented more as an active character in Least Heat-Moon's narratives as opposed to a backdrop.[7][6] As a result, Least Heat-Moon calls into question the nature of how society defines its own geographical boundaries. Renee Bryzik, a professor at UC Davis, likens Least Heat-Moon's method of illustrating this socio-environmental interaction to a reinvigorated analysis of Bioregionalism.[7] According to Bryzik, what seems most fascinating to Least Heat-Moon are instances where the line dividing society and nature becomes blurred, and it is difficult to tell whether society has influenced the environment or vice versa.[7]

Least Heat-Moon's writings also present a critique of how societal progress has negatively affected the ecosystem.[6] The insights that Least Heat-Moon gained in his travels along the blue highways were two-fold in that while he was able to come to terms with his own personal growth, he was simultaneously able to contemplate how he as a human being fit into the greater fabric of the universe. In essence, his ability to comment on the state of the ecosystem post-Blue Highways stemmed from his acquired understanding of how humans interact with their physical surrounding, and how they should interact with their environment.[7] River Horse is particularly effective as a medium for commentary on contemporary environmental resource management as his travels were reliant upon a different kind of blue highway: the rivers of North America.[8]

Psychology of self[edit]

Although Blue Highways is remembered primarily for the physical trek, which covers about 38 of the 50 states in the U.S., the quintessence of the book is the internal journey that Least Heat-Moon takes. The blue highways allowed Least Heat-Moon the space and the freedom to reflect upon who he was, who he wanted to be, and how he fit into the greater world around him.[9] Initiated by the loss of his job and the unraveling of his marriage, his own search for “self” quite literally took him down the road less traveled. Blue Highways has been likened to a cross between John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, and Jack Kerouac's On the Road.[7]

Apart from Least Heat-Moon's own admission that Travels with Charley partially influenced the decision to travel and write Blue Highways, the literary tones of both books also parallel each other.[7] Both authors were interested in exploring the U.S. as thoughtful and reflective observers. Least Heat-Moon's circumstances mirror those of Kerouac's protagonist as well, and the work shows a spiritual dimension reminiscent of “Beat” culture.[7] He was himself influenced by Beat writers such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and admitted to reworking the concept of Kerouac's On the Road.[10]

One aspect of Blue Highways as a travel narrative is that it is a snapshot of American culture that echoes the sentiments of Beat Generation writings and even Romantic Era travelogues, but does so in the late 1970s. His decision to strike out on the open road in search of spiritual truths continued a tradition that captured the cultural outlook of a certain era in U.S. history (the 1950s–1970s). To a certain extent this tradition has been lost.[9]

Although Least Heat-Moon's works echo Transcendentalist spiritual concepts, he has stated that he does not consider himself to be a “Transcendentalist”.[10]


See deep mapping.[11][12][13]


External video
video icon Presentation by Least-Heat Moon on River-Horse, October 19, 1999, C-SPAN
video icon Booknotes interview with Least Heat-Moon on River-Horse, January 16, 2000, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Least-Heat Moon on Columbus in the Americas, October 1, 2002, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Least-Heat Moon on Blue Highways, July 12, 2003, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Least-Heat Moon on Roads to Quoz, November 10, 2008, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Least-Heat Moon on Writing "Blue Highways", June 5, 2014, C-SPAN
  • Blue Highways: A Journey Into America. Fawcett, 1982. ISBN 0-449-21109-6
  • The Red Couch: A Portrait of America. With Kevin Clarke and Horst Wackerbarth. Olympic Marketing Corp, 1984. ISBN 0-912383-05-4
  • "A Glass of Handmade." The Atlantic, November 1987.
  • PrairyErth (A Deep Map). Houghton Mifflin, 1991. ISBN 0-395-48602-5
  • River Horse: The Logbook of a Boat Across America. Houghton Mifflin, 1999. ISBN 0-395-63626-4
  • Columbus in the Americas (Turning Points in History). Wiley, 2002. ISBN 0-471-21189-3
  • Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey. Little, Brown and Company, October 2008. ISBN 978-0-316-11025-9
  • Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road. Little, Brown and Company, January 8, 2013. ISBN 0316110248
  • An Osage Journey to Europe 1827-1830: Three French Accounts. University of Oklahoma Press, October 2013. ISBN 0806144033
  • Writing Blue Highways: The Story of How a Book Happened. University of Missouri Press, May 2014. Hardcover, 978-0-8262-2026-4 / E-book, 978-0-8262-7325-3.
  • Celestial Mechanics: A Tale for a Mid-Winter Night. Three Rooms Press, April 2017. Hardcover, 978-1-941110-56-0 / E-book, 978-1-941110-57-7.


  1. ^ "Ghost Dancing: The Blue Highways Van". Museum of Anthropology.
  2. ^ Blue Highways, p. 4.
  3. ^ Epping, Shane. "Always the Book // Show Me Mizzou // University of Missouri". showme.missouri.edu.
  4. ^ The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1985. New York: Newspaper Enterprise Association, Inc. 1984. p. 415. ISBN 0-911818-71-5.
  5. ^ a b Sullivan, Robert (December 14, 2008), "On the Road Again, Again", New York Times Book Review, p. 8
  6. ^ a b c Levin, Jonathan (2000). "Coordinates and Connections: Self, Language, and World in Edward Abbey and William Least Heat-Moon". Contemporary Literature. 41 (2): 214–251. doi:10.2307/1208760. JSTOR 1208760.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Bryzik, Renée (2010). "Repaving America: Ecocentric Travel in William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways". Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. 17 (4): 666–685. doi:10.1093/isle/isq106. JSTOR 44087662.
  8. ^ Lang, William L. (November 2002). "Water Trails". Pacific Historical Review. 71 (4): 663–668. doi:10.1525/phr.2002.71.4.663. JSTOR 10.1525/phr.2002.71.4.663.
  9. ^ a b Ross-Bryant, Lynn (1997). "THE SELF IN NATURE: Four American Autobiographies". Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal. 80 (1): 83–104. JSTOR 41178763.
  10. ^ a b Banga, Shellie (Fall 2010). "More is More: An Interview with William Least Heat-Moon". Writing on the Edge. 21 (1): 92–103. JSTOR 43157419.
  11. ^ WELTZIEN, O. ALAN (1999). "A Topographic Map of Words: Parables of Cartography in William Least Heat-Moon's "prairyerth"". Great Plains Quarterly. 19 (2): 107–122. JSTOR 23533130.
  12. ^ Maher, Susan Naramore (2001). "Deep Mapping the Great Plains: Surveying the Literary Cartography of Place". Western American Literature. 36 (1): 4–24. doi:10.1353/wal.2001.0030. JSTOR 43024989. S2CID 165654671.
  13. ^ Russell, Alison (Fall 2001). "Getting the Lay of the Land: Maps and Travel Writing". CEA Critic. 64 (1): 38–46. JSTOR 44378329.

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