Alfred Bertram Guthrie, Jr., earned a deserved reputation as an important American novelist, winning both popular and critical acclaim for his major novels that dramatize Western settlement in the Rocky Mountain region.
When Guthrie was six months old, his family moved to Choteau, Montana. From his father, the first principal of the local high school and later publisher of a newspaper, Guthrie learned to respect historical research and to love the spacious beauty of the land, which evoked a sense of freedom. Attracted to writing as a career early in life, Guthrie worked during his high school years on the Choteau Acantha. He majored in journalism at the University of Washington and later at the University of Montana, from which he graduated with honors in 1923, and which awarded Guthrie an honorary Doctorate of Literature in 1949.
In 1926, he became a reporter for Kentucky’s Lexington Leader, where he remained for twenty years, eventually becoming executive editor. In 1931, he married Harriet Helen Larson, a childhood friend from Choteau, and they had a son and a daughter. Guthrie first tried his hand at fiction with Murders at Moon Dance, a weak novel which anticipated his later, more successful fusion of detective and Western fiction. In 1944, Guthrie won a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, which gave him free access to the library, classes, and faculty. He had already begun writing The Big Sky, and he resumed work on the manuscript under the direction of Theodore Morrison. Before returning to Kentucky, he attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont, where he was encouraged to continue to work on his manuscript. The novel, published in 1947, was called the definitive novel of the mountain man in the 1840’s. Encouraged by The Big Sky’s success, Guthrie resigned from the Lexington Leader to become a full-time novelist. The Way West, a novel of the Oregon Trail during the 1850’s, was chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and won for Guthrie a Pulitzer Prize in 1950. It became apparent that Guthrie had embarked on an ambitious project to fictionalize phases of the westward movement that, to him, represented the essence of the American...
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