Originally published 28 Aug 2015
Board member David Langum Sr.’s story about Mary Love, a larger-than-life woman in nineteenth-century America, has won the 2015 Willa Award for his nonfiction book,Quite Contrary, The Litigious Life of Mary Bennett Love. The award is named after Willa Cather, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who wrote about frontier life inO Pioneers!and other novels.
Quite Contrarytells the story of the towering, 300-pound Love, who rode the Oregon Trail, left her husband and settled with her six children in 1840s California. The six-foot-tall woman was no pioneer housekeeper. Illiterate, loud and profane, Love forged her son’s signature to get a Mexican land grant. She farmed, ran saw mills in the Santa Cruz Mountains, shot at Indians and sued her neighbors. Was she a rambunctious frontierswoman—or a shrewd entrepreneur, a woman ahead of her time? “In truth, she was both,” says Langum, a research professor at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama.
Her love life was no less tumultuous. Love’s bodyguard shot and killed her second husband, a one-time bounty hunter and California law man.
Early reviewers have praised the book, published by Texas Tech University Press.
“David Langum has written a fascinating account of Mary Bennett Love, a woman large in both size and ambition. “ Her schemes and ambitions, her lawsuits and her land-hunger, are played out against the backdrop of old California, as it made the transition from a small Mexican outpost to a booming American state,” says Lawrence Friedman, the Marion Rice Kirkwood Professor of Law at Stanford University. Well-written and deeply researched,Quite Contraryis “a genuine contribution to Western history. “
Langum, who writes about law and morality in America, is the author of eight books, includingCrossing Over the Line: Legislating Morality and the Mann ActandWilliam M. Kunstler: The Most-Hated Lawyer in America.