Walter Van Tilburg Clark Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207071-Clark.jpg Walter Van Tilburg Clark Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Walter Van Tilburg Clark stands at the head of a small group of writers who in the first half of the twentieth century elevated fiction about the American West from formula to literature. In 1917, Clark’s father moved the family from Maine to Reno, Nevada, where he had been appointed president of the University of Nevada. Young Clark grew to love the life of the Old West. In 1927, Clark entered the University of Nevada, where he earned a B.A. and an M.A. in English. While there, he spent much of his time writing (mostly poetry) and studying ancient literature, philosophy, and contemporary poetry—particularly that of Robinson Jeffers, whom he imitated in his own verse. He earned a second M.A. in English at the University of Vermont. In the early 1930’s, Clark married Barbara Morse, and a year later they moved to Cazenovia, New York, where Clark was to begin five years of teaching at the local high school. He wrote intensively, despite heavy teaching and coaching duties, and published in a national magazine for the first time. It was also during this period that Clark began writing fiction in earnest.

According to Clark, The Ox-Bow Incident, his best-known novel, had started as a parody of formulaic fiction about cowboys (“horse operas”), but with Nazism a growing horror in Europe and war looming, the story became a fable of fascism, dramatically exploring the themes of justice and demagoguery. The story opens in the fictional Bridger’s Wells, a sleepy town near the Sierra Nevada. News comes that cattle rustlers have killed a local cowboy. Angry debate ensues, and a...

(The entire section is 653 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Walter Van Tilburg Clark was born on August 3, 1909, in East Orland, Maine, the first child of Walter Ernest and Euphemia Abrams Clark. In 1917, his father, a distinguished economics professor, became president of the University of Nevada at Reno. Therefore, the family had to move when Clark was only eight. In Reno, Clark attended public schools and later received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from the University of Nevada. Clark married Barbara Morse in 1933, and they became the parents of two children, Barbara Ann and Robert Morse. The couple settled in Cazenovia, New York, where Clark began a career in high school and college teaching as well as creative writing. In the next several years, Clark continued writing and taught at several schools, including the University of Montana, Reed College, and the University of Nevada, where he resigned after protesting the autocratic tendencies of the administration. He eventually returned there, however, to teach creative writing. Clark was also director of creative writing at San Francisco State College from 1956 to 1962. He died of cancer on November 10, 1971, at the age of sixty-two.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The first of four children in an academically talented family, Walter Van Tilburg Clark was born in East Orland, Maine, on August 3, 1909. His parents, Walter Ernest and Euphemia Abrams Clark, were cultured, refined people who introduced their children to music and the arts. Dr. Clark often read to his children in the evenings, and his wife Euphemia, who had studied piano and composition at Columbia University before she turned to social work, encouraged her son to paint and learn to play the piano. Thus, early in life he “developed a love of reading and writing, music, and art.”

Dr. Walter Ernest Clark enjoyed a distinguished career as economics professor at City College of New York, where he served as chairman of the Economics Department and was awarded the French Legion of Honor during World War I. The Clarks lived in West Nyack, New York, until 1917, when Dr. Clark resigned his position at City College in order to become president of the University of Nevada at Reno, where he served until 1933. Thus, at the age of nine, young Van Tilburg Clark moved to the West, the region that was to become the focus of his later writing. The Clarks did not live a sheltered academic life in Reno. Many of their friends were, in fact, miners and ranchers, and Clark came to know these people well. He also spent much of his time “camping and hiking in the desert hills and the Sierras.” Not being native-born, he saw the landscape and character of the West afresh, with a sensitivity and receptiveness that is registered in his fiction.

In the city of Reno, Walter Van Tilburg Clark enjoyed an active and conventional adolescence. He attended public schools in the city—Orvis Ring Grammar School and Reno High School—and became an accomplished tennis player. A fictionalized portrait of these years appears in his autobiographical novel The City of Trembling Leaves, a bildungsroman that traces the development of the young musician Tim Hazard and his friends as they grow up in Reno during the 1920’s. At that time, the city had not yet become a garish gambling and divorce center, and it retained much of its original flavor as a town of the American West. After high school graduation, Clark entered the University of Nevada in Reno in 1926, majoring in English and earning his bachelor’s degree (1930) and master’s degree (1931)...

(The entire section is 959 words.)