Harold Glen Borland was born in Sterling, Nebraska, on May 14, 1900, to printer William Arthur Borland and Sarah (nee Clinaburg) Borland. While attending the University of Colorado, he found a job as a reporter for the Denver Post, 1918. In 1920, he left the University of Colorado and joined the Flagler News, leaving in 1921. He then attended Columbia University, where he received a bachelor's degree in literature in 1923.
Borland then bounced from one newspaper job to another before establishing himself with the Curtis Newspapers in Philadelphia, working there from 1926-37. It was during this period that he began to establish himself as a nature writer, and he published two books that indicated his interests in Native Americans, nature, and history: Rocky Mountain Tipi Tales and Valor. He was a columnist for the New York Times Sunday Magazine from 1937 to 1943. His work there made him one of America's best-known nature writers, but he left the publication to become a freelance writer. After that time, he was enormously productive, publishing numerous essays on American history, Native Americans, and the American wilderness.
It was not until the late 1950s that he began to write books. His autobiographical books High, Wide and Lonesome (1956) and This Hill, This Valley (1957) showed that his work had mass market appeal, and eventually were followed by collections of his essays and novels, most of which have interest for young people even when written for adults because of the ever-present sensitivity to how youthful experiences shape adult perceptions of life. Seeming to become an even more vigorous writer than before, Borland became a columnist for the Progressive (1957), the Berkshire Eagle (1958), the Pittsburgh Press (1966), and the Torrington Register (1971), while also becoming a contributor to Audubon (1967). While writing for all these publications he wrote a torrent of freelance fiction and essays.
Borland's personal life was not an easy one, with two marriages and the premature deaths of two sons from his first marriage. Until his death from emphysema in Sharon, Connecticut, on February 22, 1978, he projected an image of himself as a rugged, individualistic outdoorsman. In 1966, he won the Meeman Award for nature writing, and in 1968, he received the John Burroughs Medal for nature writing. Throughout his career, he maintained that the people who led the most fulfilling lives were those who experienced and understood wildlife.
Harold Glen (Hal) Borland was born on May 14, 1900, in Sterling, Nebraska, to William A. Borland (whose family had arrived in Nebraska via covered wagon) and Sarah Clinaburg Borland. The family later moved to eastern Colorado and settled on an arid, hostile, and isolated homestead.
Between 1918 and 1920, Borland attended the University of Colorado, but he dropped out of school to become an associate editor for his father’s newspaper, Flagler News. After one year of working for this small newspaper, Borland set out for the big cities, stopping in New York City for a couple of years, then moving on to Salt Lake City, Fresno, San Diego, Philadelphia, and finally returning to New York. Along the way, he developed his writing skills, working variously as a reporter, editor, copyreader, publisher, and eventually taking on the role of columnist. Borland, a prolific writer, also honed his talents through a steady stream of longer works, with almost forty titles of collected essays, personal narratives, poetry, and novels to his name. He also wrote folk stories, book reviews, short stories, articles for encyclopedias, lyrics for songs, and scripts for radio, film, and stage. He states, in a brief biography published in World Authors, 1950–1970:
Early engineering training taught me to respect facts and logic. Newspaper years taught me to write straight sentences and build logical paragraphs, and fostered my work habits. A bent toward poetry gave me a sense of words and language that helped shape my style.
Borland’s first book to be published, Heaps of Gold (1922), was a collection of poems. Then, in the 1930s, he wrote a few light-hearted Western novels under his pseudonym Ward West. During the following decades, Borland’s fictional writing took a more serious bent as his subject matter focused on the harsh realities of pioneer life on the Great Plains. Included in this period was the publication of his When the Legends Die (1963), a novel that takes place at the turn of the century and tells the story of a young Native American boy’s coming-of-age trials.
Some of Borland’s most celebrated works were his autobiographical narratives, the awardwinning High, Wide and Lonesome (1956), which recounts his youth in Colorado, and its sequel Country Editor’s Boy (1970).
In 1945, Borland moved to New England, where he eventually bought a one-hundred-acre Connecticut farm that had, at one time, been the site of an ancient Indian village. This country setting inspired many of his subsequent nonfiction essays on nature. Borland’s nature writings are often said to reflect a Thoreau-like quality. He was a self-taught naturalist who was interested in extracting, from his country surroundings, a philosophy about life.
Borland was twice married. His first marriage produced two sons. In 1945, he married his second wife, Barbara Ross Dodge, who shared Borland’s interest in writing and contributed articles with him to several magazines. Both Borland’s and his wife’s writings are collected at the Beinecke Library of Yale University. Borland died in Sharon, Connecticut, on February 22, 1978.
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