I recently spoke with Stephen W. Long, author of the novel There’s a Somewhere, about writing, teaching, and the power of literature; you can listen in here.
Really pleased (read: damned ecstatic) to announce The Mountain and the Fathers has won the 2014 GLCA New Writers Award in Nonfiction. The New Writers Award brings winning writers to GLCA campuses for readings and class visits and has previously recognized the likes of Louise Erdrich, Alice Munro, Richard Ford, Kim Addonizio, Andrew Hudgins, Elizabeth Rosner, Ander Monson, Mary Szybist, and Alan Heathcock, among many others.
Here’s the citation from the judges, which has me blushing and feeling really good about things:
The 2014 winner for creative non-fiction is Joe Wilkins, The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing up on the Big Dry, published by Counterpoint Press. Our judges note:
The Big Dry of eastern Montana makes for a subject of rich complexity. Joe Wilkins evokes place like Willa Cather. That is, place begins as a kind of raw, wide-open poetry. But Wilkins tells a different story. This is about the author’s search for a model of fatherhood, to fill spaces left empty by the death of his father. Wilkins strikes with staggering, melancholy, progressively self-reflective prose that, in part, inhabits the sparseness of the part of Montana where he was born and grew up. Yet his prose also pushes against what might be considered the standard fare of writing fixed in the American West. He addresses memory and the inability to remember in lyrical prose that is, at times, achingly beautiful yet never pretentious or sentimental and never cold. With exquisite control at both the structural and sentence level, he displays both a surety and openness to question, particularly with regard to class and masculinity without theorizing or naming them as such.
More than a memoir, the book is an indictment of the ideology of rugged individualism so deeply rooted in the arid American West. …This book brings to mind novelist Wallace Stegner’s stories of those like his father who fell victim to the rain-follows-the-plow myth. …The Mountains and the Fathers is another poignant lesson in reconciling ourselves with our natural environment. …“We need to remember how it really was and is out West, and we need to tell those true new stories,” Wilkins writes. The Mountains and the Fathers is one of “true new stories,” well told.
Pleased to see that The Mountain and the Fathers is featured today on Powell’s Bookstore’s Daily Dose, a newsletter featuring recent reader comments. Thanks, Stuart in Fort Collins, for the kind, perceptive comments about The Mountain and the Fathers:
This is a tremendously powerful narrative of growing up in a harsh and unforgiving climate with a way and manner of life that few probably understand exists in the modern US today. Having lost his father at a young age, the author explores where he found example, guidance and protection as well as where he failed to find those components in the community that exists uniquely in Big Dry and Hi-line of Montana. Wilkins is very successful in conveying how the landscape and community reduce most elements of life to essentials and ways of escape. The story of what the author had to do to keep the coal burning furnace running and how that was just a fact of life no different that eating or sleeping had a strong effect on the perspective that readers can glean from the comparison to the truly few serious trials that most of us face on a daily basis.
A great read and one that has a great deal of staying power. I’ve known a fair number of people who grew up in that area of Montana and Wilkins story rings very true. The Mountain and the Fathers can provide a valuable relief against which to gauge the “inconveniences” of life as well as the effect of recognizing where a father-less boy finds the attributes in men that he will absorb and live up to as well as those he can reject and how to compare himself to the stories and perception of dead father who in some ways has been mythologized.
Just heard that The Mountain and the Fathers is a finalist for the 2013 Orion Book Award! Feeling very, very honored to be among such fine company and to be recognized by such esteemed judges and such a necessary magazine. Here’s the press release:
2013 ORION BOOK AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCED
March 27, 2013 – Great Barrington, MA – Each spring, just before Earth Day, an important book is presented with the Orion Book Award in recognition of its success in addressing the human relationship with the natural world in a fresh, thought-provoking, and engaging manner.
The five finalists for the 2013 Orion Book Award are:
• Apocalyptic Planet, by Craig Childs (Pantheon Books)
• Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper)
• Things That Are, by Amy Leach (Milkweed Editions)
• The Old Ways, by Robert Macfarlane (Viking)
• The Mountain and the Fathers, by Joe Wilkins (Counterpoint)
The winner will be announced during the second week of April, and the authors of all five books will receive a cash prize. Previous winning books include The View from Lazy Point, by Carl Safina (2012), The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story, by Diane Ackerman (2008), and Insectopedia, by Hugh Raffles (2011).
This year’s selection committee includes National Book Award winner and celebrated essayistUrsula K. Le Guin; best-selling author of The Devil’s Highway and The Hummingbird’s Daughter, Luis Alberto Urrea; renowned book critic and founder of BookSlut.com, Jessa Crispin; author and Orion contributing editor Erik Reece; and Orion’s associate editor, Hannah Fries.
Books eligible for the 2013 Orion Book Award can be either fiction or nonfiction and are judged on how they deepen our connection to the natural world, whether they present new ideas about our relationship with nature, and the extent to which they achieve excellence in writing. Over two hundred books published last year were considered for the 2013 Award.
Orion is celebrating its thirty-first year of publishing a bimonthly magazine devoted to the need for ecological awareness and a new relationship between people and nature. It has won numerous awards, was a finalist for the National Magazine Award in 2010, and is based in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
The Mountain and the Fathers has just garnered reviews in The Briar Cliff Review, The Great Falls Tribune, and Montana Quarterly! The reviews aren’t available online, but here are some quotes:
Page after page and sentence after sentence, this is one of the best-written and most readable books to come across this reader’s desk, worthy of keeping company with such excellent nonfiction such as A River Runs Through It, Blue Highways, and Tom Montag’s Curlew. -Phil Hey, The Briar Cliff Review
Words are [Wilkins’] escape from a dry, treeless, stony world and the entryway into other worlds. They’re the paving stones to self-knowledge. Later he finds respite in stories—true or not, some half-remembered. “It is when we recognize how stories fail us and how stories save us. It is when we have heard them both and tell, in the moment of out greatest need, the story that will save us.” This book is one of those stories. -Carol Ann Clark, The Great Falls Tribune
Wilkins does a wonderful job of telling the world of daily life—the hippie math teacher who’s effective in part because he throws boys against walls until they learn, strawberry ice cream and fishing, snakes and prairie fires and cheap vodka—but he hits a crescendo near the end, when he leaves the toughness behind and lets his mother remember reality, warm and joyous and not elegiac at all, from the first moments of life with her husband to the last, just a few years later: “Dancing, she was saying, every night that week. He came in every night that week and took me dancing…Two-dollar champagne, she said. We drank it out of soda bottles and drove all through the night…Anyway, I loved him. I love him.” -Jamie Harrison, Montana Quarterly
Last spring I had the good fortune to carry on a dialogue with writer Brandon Schrand about form, language, and experimentation in the writing of memoir. The Mountain and the Fathers eschews chronology for fragmentation and thematic connection, and Brandon’s newest, Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior, is a freewheeling, fun, affecting memoir penned in the found form of a works cited. You can check out our conversation in this month’s issue of Brevity.