James Welch (writer)

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James Welch
James Welch in 2000 after being knighted and awarded an honorary medal by France
Born (1940-11-18)November 18, 1940
Browning, Montana, U.S.
Died August 4, 2003(2003-08-04) (aged 62)
Missoula, Montana, U.S.
Occupation Author, educator
Nationality Blackfoot
Genre Fiction
Literary movement Native American Renaissance
Notable works Winter in the Blood (1974) Fools Crow (1986)

James Welch (November 18, 1940 – August 4, 2003), who grew up within the Blackfeet and A'aninin cultures of his parents, was an award-winning Native American novelist and poet,[1] considered a founding author of the Native American Renaissance. His novel Fools Crow (1986) received several national literary awards.

In 1997 Welch received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas.[2]


James Welch was born in Browning, Montana on November 18, 1940. His father, a welder and rancher, was a member of the Blackfeet tribe and his mother, Rosella O'Bryan, a stenographer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and was [3] a member of the Gros Ventre tribe; both also had Irish ancestry but had grown up within Native American cultures.[1] As a child, Welch attended schools on the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap reservations.[4] [5] In 1958, James Welch graduated from Washburn High School in Minneapolis. [6] For college, Welch attended the University of Montana, where he studied under the poet Richard Hugo, and in 1965, he graduated with his B.A. in liberal arts. [6] Shortly after, Welch's first poem was published in the Montana poet issue of Visions International in 1967. [5] He began his writing career,[7] publishing poetry and fiction. His novels established his place in the Native American Renaissance literary movement. Welch also taught at the university.[8] He also received Honorary Doctorates from Rocky Mountain College (1993) and the University of Montana (1997). [5]

James Welch was also an internationally acclaimed writer and had a faithful following in Europe, and in 1995, Welch was given the Chevalier of the Odre des Artes et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of the Arts and Letters) by the French Cultural Ministry and was fully knighted by the French Government for his contributions to French culture. His novels were also translated into nine foreign languages. [4]

Welch is commonly found in anthologies on Native American literature and is associated with the Native American literacy renaissance. [9] The main goal of his writing was to give the readers a better understanding about the life of a Native American both good and bad. [4] His rich imagery of landscape was never made up, but was based on the landscape of Montana. In his writing, the landscape was often times the main character. Welch had a unique style of writing from "'an outside observer with an insider's understanding' of Native American experience", this was because even though he was raised on the reservation as a young boy, he lived most of his life off of it. So he had a feeling of lack of close connection with the tribal community. [5]

In 1968, James Welch married Lois Monk, a comparative literature professor at the University of Montana, [5] and was head of the English Department there until her retirement. During his wife's sabbaticals they lived in France, Greece, Italy, and Mexico, [4] which often times helped him finish writing his novels due to the feeling of isolation. [5] Also, the two were regular financial donors to the Piegan Institute's language immersion program's efforts in continuing the restoration of the native Blackfeet language. [4]

Welch also briefly attended Northern Montana College[10] (now known as Montana State University-Northern). He taught English and writing at the University of Washington and at Cornell University.[citation needed]

In her introduction to the 2007 reprint of Winter in the Blood, fellow writer Louise Erdrich said: "It is a central and inspiring text to a generation of western regional and Native American writers, including me."[11] This novel was adapted as a film by the same name, released in 2012 and produced by Sherman Alexie.

In addition to his novels, Welch co-wrote with Paul Stekler the screenplay for Last Stand at Little Bighorn, the Emmy Award-winning documentary that was part of the American Experience, shown on PBS.[12] Together they also wrote the history, Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians (1994).

Welch served on the Board of Directors of the Newberry Library D'Arcy McNickle Center in Chicago.[13][14]

In addition to his literary work, Welch served as the Vice Chairman of the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole for ten years. Also he was a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, was a laborer, and an Upward Bound counselor. [4]

Welch died at his home in Missoula, Montana in 2003, [15] from a heart attack after a ten month battle with lung cancer. [4]


  • American Book Award, Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Pacific Northwest Book Award. Fools Crow (1986)[2]
  • Emmy Award. Last Stand at Little Bighorn. Documentary.
  • 3rd Annual Native American Literature Prize (1991) [6]
  • Spur Award from Western Writers of America for Best Television Documentary Script (1992) [5]
  • John Dos Passos Prize for Literature (1994) [5]
  • Western Literature Association's Distinguished Achievement Award (1994) [5]
  • Chevalier of the Odre des Artes et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of the Arts and Letters) by the French Cultural Ministry (1995) [5]
  • Native Writers' Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award (1997)[16]
  • granted full Knighthood by the French Government [4]
  • Montana Governor's Humanities Award [4]




  • Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians (1994)


  • Riding the Earthboy 40 (1971 rpt. 1975)
  • Last Stand at Little Bighorn
  • Christmas Comes to Moccasin Flat

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Acclaimed author James Welch dies
  2. ^ a b Lundquist, Suzanne Evertsen (2004). Native American Literatures: an introduction. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 80. ISBN 978-0826415998. OCLC 55801000. 
  3. ^ [ Nixon, Will. "James Welch: his Native American characters search for their identity in an alien culture." Publishers Weekly, 5 Oct. 1990: 81+. Biography in Context. Web. 18 May 2016.]
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i [Selden, Ron. "Acclaimed Author James Welch Dies." indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com. Indian Country. 17 Aug. 2003. Web. 18 May 2016.] [1]
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j [ McFarland, Ronald E. "Understanding James Welch." Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000. eBook Collection(EBSCOhost). Web. 18 May 2016]
  6. ^ a b c ["James Welch Receives 3rd Annual Native American Literature Prize." Akwesasne Notes: 27, 30 Apr. 1991. ProQuest. Web. 12 May 2016]
  7. ^ History and Literature in the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington, URL last accessed July 17, 2007
  8. ^ Famous Montanans: James Welch, Native American Author, Montana Kids, accessed on July 11, 2007
  9. ^ [ Trask, David S. " Welch, James." Encyclopedia of American Indian History. Ed. Bruce E. Johansen and Barry M. Pritzker. Vol. 3. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008. 875-876. Gale Virtual Library. Web. 18 May 2016.]
  10. ^ James Welch's Biography "ipl2 Native American Authors" Check |url= value (help). 
  11. ^ Louise Erdrich, "Introduction", Winter in the Blood (2007 reprint)
  12. ^ Last Stand at Little Bighorn, Alibris.com, URL last accessed July 11, 2007
  13. ^ James Treat: Writing the Cross Culture, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, URL last accessed July 17, 2007.
  14. ^ Tribune Staff. "125 Montana Newsmakers: James Welch". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved August 27, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Writer James Welch dies at 62", Missoulian, 6 August 2003, accessed July 11, 2007
  16. ^ List of NWCA Lifetime Achievement Awards, accessed 6 Aug 2010.

Further reading[edit]

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