Thomas King Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Thomas King was born to Robert Elvin King, a Cherokee Indian from Oklahoma, and Katheryn Konsonlas King, a Greek American. His father left the family when Thomas was five, and he and his brother, Christopher, were raised by their mother in Roseville, California. Upon graduation from Roseville High School, King worked at odd jobs, including those of ambulance driver and gambling croupier. He attended Sacramento State College from 1961 to 1962 and Sierra Junior College from 1962 to 1964, after which he worked his way to Australia and New Zealand and was employed there as a photojournalist. He returned to the United States in 1967 and took a job as a draftsman at Boeing Aircraft in Seattle. The following year he enrolled at California State College, Chico, because his mother had gone there. He graduated in 1970, with a B.A. in English. That year he married Kristine Adams. They had a son, Christian, in 1971.

At that point, King embarked upon a series of academic jobs, beginning as a counselor for American Indian students at the University of Utah and soon moving up to director of the new Native Studies Department. While working at Utah, he obtained an M.A. in English from his undergraduate alma mater in Chico. In 1973 he moved on to Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, where he was an associate dean for student services.

In 1977 King returned to the University of Utah, to work as coordinator of the History of the Indians of the...

(The entire section is 598 words.)


Although he is now a Canadian citizen, Thomas King was born and raised in Northern California. His mother was of German and Greek descent was his father was Cherokee. He earned his PhD from the University of Utah and has served in numerous academic posts in both the United States and Canada. At the time of Green Grass, Running Water’s publication, King served as the chair of the American Indian Studies program at the University of Minnesota. His most recent academic position is teaching Native Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Guelph (Ontario). At Guelph, King made an unsuccessful bid for a legislative seat in the Canadian government.

As a writer, King has focused on the Native American experience, starting with his first novel, Medicine River (published in 1990). Medicine River was so successful that it was adapted into a made-for-television film starring Academy-Award-nominated actor Graham Greene. King then edited an anthology of Native literature, All My Relations, and also wrote the book’s introduction and one of its stories. King received back-to-back Governor General’s Award nominations in 1992 and 1993. The former was for a children’s book he wrote titled A Coyote Columbus Story, and the latter was for Green Grass, Running Water. Green Grass, Running Water remains King’s best known work and has become a staple of literary courses. Biographical elements are neatly woven into the novel, in which two of the main characters are academics. One of them teaches Native American studies in Alberta, where King himself also taught. The novel also focuses on Blackfoot culture, which King learned about during his tenure in Alberta.

King’s next literary project was a collection of his own short stories, One Good Story, That One. King’s mastery of the short form gained him exposure in a different medium: radio. King’s program, The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour, was a serial with connections to the places and characters featured in Green Grass, Running Water. More novels, short stories, and poetry followed, and King’s name continues to be synonymous with the interrogation of Native American society. Although King has sometimes described his work as pessimistic, its very existence has widened the platform of expression for Native American writing.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Atwood, Margaret. “A Double-Bladed Knife: Subversive Laughter in Two Stories by Thomas King.” Canadian Literature 124/125 (Summer/Spring, 1990): 243-250. Atwood praises “Joe the Painter and the Deer Island Massacre” and “One Good Story, That One” for their timing, their wit, and their inventive narrative structure.

Donaldson, Laura. “Noah Meets Old Coyote: Or, Singing in the Rain, Intertextuality in Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water.” SAIL: Studies in American Indian Literature 7 (Summer, 1995): 27-43. A view of the book as a conflict of narratives, as when a hero of American Indian trickster tales “colorizes” a John Wayne cowboy movie by changing it so the people of color win.

Ruppert, James. “Thomas King.” In Native American Writers of the United States. Vol. 175 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 1997. A literary and biographical study.

The World & I 8 (June, 1993). This issue is largely devoted to King’s fiction, particularly Green Grass, Running Water, which had just been published. Articles include “Setting the Story Straight,” by Elizabeth Blair (pp. 284-295); “When Coyote Dreams,” by James Ruppert (pp. 297-305); and an interview with King (pp. 306-309).