Larry Woiwode Biography

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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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 University of New York, Binghamton, where he served as faculty member and Writing Program director for four years. He continues to conduct writing workshops in the United States and abroad. Woiwode lives with his family on a 160-acre farm in North Dakota, where he raises quarter horses and writes. In 1995, he was named North Dakota Centennial Poet.

Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

While believing that the most important human questions are, in fact, spiritual ones, Woiwode rejects the notion that there can be legitimate, compelling “novels of ideas.” Woiwode handles such questions by creating authentically ordinary characters and settling them into the concrete and mundane world of daily life as filtered through human imagination and memory. Woiwode’s prose is consistently active, alive, and unassuming, with a finely tuned lyricism. His keen eye for the extraordinary ordinariness of life makes his narrative vision compelling and believable. Woiwode thus stands out as a moderating influence among contemporary novelists, an advocate for restoring a moral, even spiritual voice to modern letters.

Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Larry Alfred Woiwode was born on October 30, 1941, in Carrington, North Dakota, and grew up in nearby Sykestown. His father, Everett Woiwode, taught high school English, and when Woiwode was ten, his father moved the family to Manito, Illinois. In high school, Woiwode wrote poems for a local newspaper, and while attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1959-1964), he continued his writing, was published often, won some writing prizes, and gained an associate degree in rhetoric. After leaving college, he worked briefly in Florida with a theatrical company, before moving to New York, where he began his professional writing career.

According to Woiwode, William Maxwell, an editor for The New Yorker, was responsible for shifting his writing from what he calls “postmodernism” to a concern for an authentic voice, one rooted in his past. At Maxwell’s urging, he became a freelance writer and published stories and poems in such journals as The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, and Harper’s. Four of those stories formed the nucleus of What I’m Going to Do, I Think, his first novel. He spent 1973 and 1974 as writer-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin. Beyond the Bedroom Wall: A Family Album, his second novel, features narrative shifts, unconventional, nonliterary material, and many Neumiller characters. It, too, received critical acclaim.

Before he continued the Neumiller saga in Born Brothers (1988), he wrote two other books: Even Tide (1977), a collection of poems, and Poppa John (1981), an atypical Woiwode novel about the plight of an elderly, out-of-work soap opera actor. Both works reflect Woiwode’s deepening religious faith. Woiwode, reared as a Roman Catholic, and his wife joined the Orthodox Presbyterian church in 1977, and his writing has continued to focus on religious issues and to employ Christian symbols, allusions, and myths. Born Brothers, in fact, is a conscious reworking of the Jacob and Esau story with an overlay of the Cain and Abel tale. After deciding that New York was not the place for family life, Woiwode and his family lived, by his admission, in about ten states before settling on a ranch in North Dakota.

Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Larry Alfred Woiwode was born in Carrington, North Dakota, on October 30, 1941. He 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 his appreciation for the effects of nature on 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.

Woiwode 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. With Carol he would eventually have four children. 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. He was a writer-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and had extended teaching posts at Wheaton College (Illinois) and at the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he served as a faculty member (intermittently) beginning in 1983. In 1977, he was awarded the doctor of letters degree from North Dakota State University.

Woiwode explains in his memoirs What I Think I Did and A Step from Death how his nascent Christian faith began to grow and gain strength in his life, and he is now known nationally as a Christian author (although his works are perhaps too complex to relegate him to the shelves dedicated to particularly religious writers).

He and his family returned to North Dakota in 1978 to maintain an organic farm. As detailed in his memoirs, Woiwode would continue to balance the farm life that spoke to him and nourished both his family life and writing with brief academic assignments at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and at Jamestown College.