Larry Woiwode

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Larry Alfred Woiwode was born in Carrington, North Dakota, on October 30, 1941, and spent his early years in nearby Sykeston, a predominantly German settlement amid the rugged, often forbidding north-midwestern terrain. No doubt the beauty as well as the stark loneliness of this landscape heightened the author’s appreciation for the effect of nature upon individual character. At the age of ten, he moved with his family to Manito, Illinois, another evocatively midwestern environment capable of nurturing the descriptive powers of a budding fiction writer.

He attended the University of Illinois for five years but failed to complete a bachelor’s degree, leaving the university in 1964 with an associate of arts degree in rhetoric. He met his future wife, Carol Ann Patterson, during this period and married her on May 21, 1965. After leaving Illinois, Woiwode moved to New York City and supported his family with freelance writing, publishing in The New Yorker and other prestigious periodicals while working on two novels.

During his career, Woiwode has been known primarily for his longer fiction, but he has frequently published short stories in such prominent literary periodicals as The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and he published a well-received collection of poems, Even Tide, in 1977. Several of his short stories have been chosen for anthologies of the year’s best. Woiwode’s first novel, What I’m Going to Do, I Think, won for him the prestigious William Faulkner Foundation Award for the “most notable first novel” of 1969 and brought him immediate critical attention. It reached the best-seller list and has been translated into several foreign languages.

His second novel, Beyond the Bedroom Wall: A Family Album (1975), actually begun before What I’m Going to Do, I Think, was nominated for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It became an even bigger commercial and critical success than his first novel.

Woiwode’s third novel, Poppa John (1981) was less successful commercially and critically; it departed from his signature, the midwestern prairie setting, and located its protagonist, an aging soap opera actor, in New York City. Born Brothers (1988), the long-awaited sequel to Beyond the Bedroom Wall, returned readers to the unfolding lives of a quintessential midwestern family, chronicling the tensions of two Neumiller brothers, Charles and Jerome. The Neumiller Stories (1989), a collection of reworked short stories about the Neumiller clan, expanded the “snapshot album” of narratives about this family and continued Woiwode’s refinement of the psychic landscape first begun as episodes in his novel Beyond the Bedroom Wall. Woiwode’s novel Indian Affairs (1992) continued the marital saga of Chris and Ellen begun in What I’m Going to Do, I Think. His collection of short stories Silent Passengers (1993) featured families and their relationships to the land and to each other on the upper plains.

Departing from fiction, Woiwode penned Acts: A Writer’s Reflections on the Church, Writing, and His Own Life (1993), a meditation connecting the Gospel of Luke to the author’s decision to depart academia in order to relocate his family to a farm in North Dakota. Aristocrat of the West: The Story of Harold Schafer (2000) is a biography of Woiwode’s North Dakota hero. What I Think I Did: A Season of Survival in Two Acts (2000) is the first of a planned three-part autobiography.

In 1977, Woiwode was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree from North Dakota State University. Woiwode’s oeuvre has merited numerous awards, including the 1991 John Dos Passos Prize, the 1992 Nelson Algrew Short Fiction award, the 1995 Award of Merit from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the 1999 Associated Writings Program Award. In academic life, Woiwode has served as a writer-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and has held extended teaching posts at Wheaton College (Illinois) and at the State...

(The entire section is 1,473 words.)