Ian Frazier

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ian Frazier (FRAYZH-ur) is noted for his humorous essays on contemporary life and travel narratives that explore American history and geography—especially his work about the American West. He has been a frequent contributor to The New Yorker. He has written for the Harvard Lampoon and published in Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines. He has contributed essays for many books, translated a book, written on the crafts of travel writing and journalism, and served as editor for The Best American Essays, 1997.

After graduating from Harvard University in 1973, Frazier looked for work writing for magazines. While living in Chicago, he briefly wrote for Playboy. He then found a job as a staff writer for The New Yorker, writing pieces for the magazine’s “Talk of the Town” section. In 1982, the unmarried Frazier moved to Kalispell, Montana, where he stayed for several years before returning to New York City. His time there led to his writing of Great Plains, a work which became a best-seller and brought him national attention. In 1996, having married Jacqueline Carey, another writer, Frazier again moved to Montana for several years, this time bringing his wife and two children to Missoula, while he developed and worked on his book On the Rez.

Frazier’s eclectic work as a journalist and essayist has led him to write about a variety of topics, from dating to parenting, from the sport of fishing to lampooning lawyers, and even spoofing on the lives and works of modern poets. His longer works of nonfiction—Great Plains, Family, and On the Rez—deal with his journeys across the United States and combine accounts of people he meets along the way with his own personal stories, arcane knowledge of history, and reporting about current affairs. His work is part oral biography, relying on the spoken words and memories of others, and part meticulous research of facts and documents. His longer works of nonfiction include copious notes on his research at libraries and other sources. He seems more a lively biographer of America, a chronicler of road journeys, than a historian. His sources might include a bartender as well as a book at a local museum.

Great Plains was his first large work of nonfiction. In it, Frazier recounts the history of Crazy Horse and other American Indians. He tells the story of Nicodemus, Kansas, the first town settled by black people after the Civil War. He also tells the story of how certain grasses were imported to the Great Plains as well as how the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) runs the missile silos in the Dakotas. Great Plains—part living history, part elegy—is a book that questions what the current United States has made of the ideals upon which the country was founded.

Family is a biography of Frazier’s ancestors and relatives. The book searches widely and extensively through America’s past and that of his own family. One chapter looks at how his early ancestors became settlers in Ohio, another chapter describes the tragedy of the Civil War, and still another chapter looks at the tragedy of the death of Frazier’s brother Fritz as well as the onset of his parents’ illnesses. As with Great Plains, Frazier combines personal stories with interviews, letters and memories, and factual research to explore his topic. The book also takes on issues of slavery, American ideals, and religion. Family attempts to rescue a bit of the past—his own. It values the lives of ordinary people.

In On the Rez, Frazier combines his love of the West with his interest in American Indians to write a story about his travels from New York City to Missoula, Montana, and then to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He focuses on the stories of two contemporary and contrasting American Indians: his friend Le War Lance, whom he wrote about in Great Plains , and the life and legend of SuAnne Big Crow. Frazier also examines the Battle of Wounded Knee (1890), and he confronts his own desires to have lived as an...

(The entire section is 1,119 words.)