Frank Waters Biography


First nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1985, Frank Waters holds a place in American literature as a significant western writer. His mother was from a prominent mining family, and his father was part Cheyenne. Waters early became conscious of this duality in his parentage, especially after experiencing a mystical moment at his family’s gold mine on Pikes Peak. This transcendental glimpse of the underlying unity of the earth became a pivotal experience in his life and work, reinforcing his need to reconcile dualities and leading him to a lifelong study of Eastern philosophy; traditional Native American beliefs, myths, and rituals; and Jungian psychoanalysis. He studied engineering for three years at Colorado College before dropping out in 1924 to work, first in the oil fields of Wyoming and later as an engineer in California. Throughout his career, he expressed both the mystical and the rational sides of his experience in novels of poetic, intuitive insight and in essays, biographies, and anthropological studies of Native American cultures.

Two of Waters’s initial attempts to give fictional form to his ideas, The Yogi of Cockroach Court (begun in 1927 but not published until 1947) and Fever Pitch, reflect his early problem of blending idea and form while exploring such themes as the yogic doctrines of Buddhism, the mystical experiences of wholeness and enlightenment, and the dynamic relationship of people to their environment. Driven by his own desire for reconciliation, Waters wrote an epic autobiographical trilogy that realistically tells the pioneer story of gold mining in the Rocky Mountains from 1870 to 1920: The Wild Earth’s Nobility, Below Grass Roots, and The Dust Within the Rock. The first volume is based on his grandfather Dozier (renamed Rogier), who experiences moments of expanded consciousness and becomes obsessed to the point of madness by his effort to extract both gold and the hidden principle of existence from his Pikes Peak mine. The second book reflects Waters’s emotionally divisive childhood, as Rogier’s grandson, March Cable, is caught between his white mother and part-Native American father, who fight for emotional dominance over their son. In the third book, March comes to terms with his own duality, achieving a symbolic synthesis of the Anglo (granite) and Native American (adobe) elements within his psyche. Waters later published a more focused, one-volume...

(The entire section is 1004 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Frank Joseph Waters was born on July 25, 1902, and spent most of his childhood and youth in Colorado Springs. These years provided much of the material for his early novels The Wild Earth’s Nobility, Below Grass Roots, and The Dust Within the Rock and consequently for their revised version, Pike’s Peak: A Family Saga. Waters’s grandfather became the model for Joseph Rogier, the main character of these books, and Waters’s boyhood experience in the Cripple Creek mining camps provided much of the background. His experiences as an engineering student at Colorado College (from 1922 to 1925) and as a day laborer in the Salt Creek oil fields are also incorporated into these early novels.

After his work at Salt Creek, Waters traveled to California, where he was employed by the telephone company in the border town of Calexico. It was there, among Chinese laborers, opium dens, and general degradation, that he came across Tai Ling, who became theprotagonist of The Yogi of Cockroach Court. This novel was actually drafted before his Colorado novels, but technical problems prevented its completion until some years later.

The move to California marks a dividing line in Waters’s treatment of his material. The personal experiences from before the move went into novels of a semiautobiographical nature. Those that drew their material from after the move were not autobiographical, though they continued to...

(The entire section is 515 words.)