Larry Woiwode Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Larry Woiwode’s characters tend to have a strong connection to place. How would you describe their relationship to the land?

The search for meaning, for a spiritual life, is a motif in many of Woiwode’s novels and stories. Where does Woiwode suggest this spiritual life be found?

Intragenerational relationships play a role in Beyond the Bedroom Wall and The Neumiller Stories. What do younger family members learn from their elders (and vice versa) that stresses the importance of maintaining communication between the generations?

Woiwode has said that he incorporated his mother’s death into a number of his works as an exercise in coming to terms with his early loss. What do these scenes reveal about the grieving process?

Woiwode’s fiction and nonfiction both seem dedicated to preserving or reviving a way of life. Based on the work or works that you have read, how would you characterize that way of life?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

For the most part, Larry Woiwode is a writer of fiction, primarily the novel. His several novels, which have received critical acclaim, are, however, closely related to his short stories in style, setting, and characters. He has also written poetry and the nonfiction works Acts (1993), Aristocrat of the West: The Story of Harold Schafer (2000), and What I Think I Did: A Season of Survival in Two Acts (2000).


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

In 1970, Larry Woiwode received the William Faulkner Foundation First Novel Award and a notable book award from the American Library Association for What I’m Going to Do, I Think (1969). He received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1971-1972), and in 1976 his Beyond the Bedroom Wall: A Family Album (1975) was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the award in fiction from the Friends of American Writers. North Dakota State University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1977; in 1977 and 1978, he received Bush Foundation Fellowships. In 1980 Woiwode won an Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award and that same year received an award in fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Larry Woiwode (WI-wood-ee) was once known primarily for his longer fiction, but as his career has evolved he has shown great diversity and variety. He has published short stories in such prominent literary periodicals as The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and several of his stories have been included in anthologies of the best stories published in given years. He has written book reviews and essays for many newspapers, including The New York Times. The Neumiller Stories (1989), a collection of thirteen previously uncollected stories, including three penned in the 1980’s, expands the “family album” ofnarratives about the Neumiller clan that Woiwode began in his novels Beyond the Bedroom Wall and Born Brothers.

Woiwode has also published poetry, including the well-received collection Even Tide (1977). In 1993, he published another collection of short fiction titled Silent Passengers: Stories, and that same year he also published Acts, which contains his ruminations on the current state of Christianity and letters. His interest in frontier life and in the North Dakota frontier is explored in Aristocrat of the West: The Story of Harold Schafer, which was published by the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies in 2000. Woiwode returned to narrative prose with What I Think I Did: A Season of Survival in Two Acts in 2000; this complex and poetic memoir describes his initiation into the writing life and his apprenticeship to New Yorker editor William Maxwell. His second memoir (of a projected trilogy), A Step from Death, was published in 2008; like What I Think I Did, A Step from Death eschews a straightforward, chronological organization, instead following thematic threads in different directions.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Larry 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 the American Library Association Notable Book Award in 1970 and brought him immediate critical attention. The book was a best seller and was translated into several foreign languages. What I’m Going to Do, I Think, and the short fiction Woiwode was publishing, helped him earn a Guggenheim fellowship, awarded for literary excellence. His second novel, Beyond the Bedroom Wall, 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, and it won the American Library Association Notable Book Award in 1976. It became an even bigger commercial and critical success than his first novel. Woiwode received Bush Foundation fellowships in 1977 and 1978 for his work in fiction.

His third novel, Poppa John, was much less successful commercially and critically. The novel’s premise andprotagonist indeed represented a departure from the regional narrative Woiwode had successfully employed in his previous fiction, but it did earn the Cornerstone Best Book of the Year Award in 1982. In 1991, Woiwode was presented with the John Dos Passos Prize from Longwood University in recognition of the overall excellence of his body of work. His continued work in short fiction...

(The entire section is 515 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Block, Ed, Jr. “An Interview with Larry Woiwode.” Renascence: Essays on Value in Literature 44 (Fall, 1991): 17-30. Woiwode discusses the writer’s task, the importance of his own family to his work, his current writing projects, his personal life, and his opinion of several young writers.

Chappell, F. “American Gothic.” National Review, March 24, 1989, 45-46. A favorable review of Born Brothers that explores the book’s American roots.

Connaughton, Michael E. “Larry Woiwode.” In American Novelists Since World War II, Second Series. Vol. 6 in Dictionary of Literary Biography, edited by James E. Kibler, Jr. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. An assessment of Woiwode’s gift for regional fiction that explores the themes and narrative style of his first two novels.

Flower, Dean. Review of The Neumiller Stories, by Larry Woiwode. The Hudson Review 43 (Summer, 1990): 311. Flower’s extensive and perceptive review of Woiwode’s stories examines the early stories, their alterations in novel form, and their “un-gathering,” revising, and “unrevising” in The Neumiller Stories. For Flower, the stories form a “superb family chronicle,” with the three new stories adding new layers to the Neumiller characters. Of particular interest is Flower’s comment on the way Woiwode “expands the frame” at the end of the story and leaves his readers with an image that resembles a snapshot, a moment caught in time.

Freise, Kathy. “Home Again on the Prairie.” North Dakota Horizons 23 (Summer, 1993): 19-23. Details Woiwode’s connections with the state and its role in his books dealing with the Neumiller family.

Gardner, John. Review of Beyond the Bedroom Wall, by Larry Woiwode. The New York Times Book Review 125 (September 28, 1975): 1-2. An enthusiastic review of what most critics believe is Woiwode’s best novel; Gardner’s plaudits won a wide audience for Woiwode beyond the small circle of intellectuals who had hailed his first novel.

Jones, Timothy. “The Reforming of a Novelist.” Christianity Today, October 26, 1992, 86-89. In this interview, Woiwode discusses his view of the nonreligious, humanistic approach of the...

(The entire section is 996 words.)