Walter Van Tilburg Clark

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Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Walter Van Tilburg Clark.jpg
Born(1909-08-03)August 3, 1909
East Orland, Maine
DiedNovember 10, 1971(1971-11-10) (aged 62)
Virginia City, Nevada
Resting placeMasonic Cemetery (Silver Terrace), Virginia City, NV[1]
OccupationWriter, college teacher
GenresNovel, short story
Years active1932–1971
Notable worksThe Ox-Bow Incident, The Watchful Gods and Other Stories
Notable awardsO. Henry Prize, Nevada Writer's Hall of Fame
SpouseBarbara Frances Morse (b. 1906 – d. 1969)[2]
ChildrenRobert Morse (son), Barbara Anne (daughter)[3]

Walter Van Tilburg Clark (August 3, 1909 – November 10, 1971) was an American novelist, short story writer, and educator. He ranks as one of Nevada's most distinguished literary figures of the 20th century, and was the first inductee into the 'Nevada Writers Hall of Fame' in 1988, together with Robert Laxalt, Clark's mentee and Nevada's other heralded twentieth century author. Two of Clark's novels, The Ox-Bow Incident and The Track of the Cat, were made into films. As a writer, Clark taught himself to use the familiar materials of the western saga to explore the human psyche and to raise deep philosophical issues.


Born in East Orland, Maine, Clark grew up, graduated from Reno High School in 1926 and went to college at the University of Nevada, where his father, Walter Ernest Clark, was president of the University of Nevada. In 1933 Clark married Barbara Frances Morse and moved to Cazenovia, New York, where he taught high school English and began his fiction-writing career.

Clark's first published novel, The Ox-Bow Incident (1940), was successful and is often considered to be the first modern Western, without the usual clichés and formulaic plots of the genre.[4] The novel is a story about a lynch mob mistaking three innocent travelers for cattle rustlers suspected of murder. After the travelers are hanged, the lynch mob finds that they killed the wrong suspects. The novel's themes include an examination of frontier law and order, as well as culpability. The novel was well-received, gave Clark literary acclaim that was unusual for a writer of Westerns, and in 1943 was adapted into a movie starring Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan.

Over the next decade, Clark published two more novels: The City of Trembling Leaves (1945) and The Track of the Cat (1949). In 1950, a collection of short stories, The Watchful Gods and Other Stories, was released. Since they began appearing in national magazines during the 1940s, Clark's short stories gained national recognition and earned the O. Henry Prize five times, in quick succession, between 1941 and 1945.[5] After this initial success in the short story format, some of these stories (notably "Hook" and "The Wind And The Snow Of Winter") have been repeatedly anthologized as classic examples of the genre.[3][6] Clark's short story, "The Portable Phonograph" - a poignant depiction of survivors in the aftermath of nuclear war - is also well known. Two Hollywood films were inspired by Clark's writings, and one of these (The Ox-Bow Incident) received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The other film was Track of the Cat, based on Clark's novel The Track of the Cat. (Note that the film's title drops the definite article used in the novel's title).

Although he continued to write more sporadically after 1950, Clark published no more fiction works during the remaining two decades of his life. Thereafter, Clark devoted his creative energies to teaching and lecturing. From 1954 to 1956, he was a professor of creative writing at the University of Montana in Missoula, where he was noted by his students for his teaching skills and for his eccentric clothing which consisted of a blue turtleneck shirt, maroon corduroy jacket, grey slacks and blue socks which never varied throughout the term. Clark began teaching at a writer's workshop at San Francisco State University during the summer of 1955, moving to San Francisco in 1956 after he was hired there full-time to establish a formal Creative Writing Program.[7] He remained there until 1962.[3]

Clark would return to Reno to serve as the writer-in-residence at the university from 1962 until his death from cancer in Virginia City, Nevada on November 10, 1971 at aged 62.[8] He spent the last ten years of his life editing The Journals of Alfred Doten. He died almost two years to the day after the death of his wife Barbara (Frances Morse) Clark (December 16, 1906 - November 12, 1969).[2] [n 1] Both of them died of cancer, as Clark's biographer Jackson J. Benson noted in his biography of Clark, The Ox-Bow Man.[9] Clark was chosen, along with Robert Laxalt, to be the first writer inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame when it was established in 1988 by the Friends of the University of Nevada Libraries.[10]

Books by Clark[edit]

  • The Ox-Bow Incident, Random House (New York, NY), 1940; published with an introduction by Clifton Fadiman, Heritage, 1942; published with an afterword by W. P. Webb, Armed Services Edition, 1943, New American Library (New York, NY), 1960; reprinted, Modern Library Paperback Classics (New York, NY), 2001.
  • The City of Trembling Leaves, Random House (New York, NY), 1945; published as Tim Hazard, Kimber (England), Armed Services Edition, 1946; 1951(an abridged version). Reprinted as part of the Western Literature Series, University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 1991, 2003. With a "Foreword" by Robert Laxalt.
  • The Track of the Cat, Random House (New York, NY), 1949, reprinted, University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 1993, 2003, with an "Afterword" by Walter Van Tilburg Clark.
  • The Watchful Gods and Other Stories, Random House (New York, NY), 1950. (contains "Hook," "The Wind and the Snow of Winter," "The Rapids," "The Anonymous," "The Buck in the Hills," "Why Don't You Look Where You're Going?," "The Indian Well," "The Fish Who Could Close His Eyes," "The Portable Phonograph," and "The Watchful Gods"). Reprinted, University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 2004. With a "Foreword" by Ann Ronald[11]
  • Christmas Comes to Hjalsen (1930)
  • "Dawn, Washoe Valley; Big Dusk; Pyramid Lake" (1932)
  • Ten Women in Gale's House: And Shorter Poems (1932)
  • "To a Friend with New Shoes" (1934)
  • (Author of foreword) Robert Cole Caples: A Retrospective Exhibition, 1927-63 (catalog), [Reno, NV], 1964.
  • (Editor) The Journals of Alfred Doten, 1849-1903, three volumes, University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 1973. Online edition username and password: doten
  • Walter Van Tilburg Clark: Critiques, edited by Charlton Laird; University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 1983. In this volume, some of Clark's works were collected and grouped with essays about Clark and his writings

Further reading[edit]

  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 28, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 9: "American Novelists, 1910-1945", Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.
  • Lee, L. L., Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Boise State College (Boise, ID), 1973.
  • Lindroth, James R., Clark's The Ox-Bow Incident: A Critical Commentary, Monarch Press (New York, NY), 1966.
  • Shafton, Anthony, The Nevada They Knew: Robert Caples and Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Fonthill Media (Charleston, SC), 2017.
  • Stegner, Wallace, One Way to Spell Man, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1982, pp. 124–35.
  • Twentieth-Century Western Writers, St. James Press (Chicago, IL), 1991.
  • Westbrook, Max, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Twayne (New York, NY), 1969.


  1. ^ Barbara Clark's date of birth is determined by enlarging the picture of the grave marker at the cited "find-a-grave" website here, because it clearly shows December 16. This same website, however, lists her birth-date incorrectly as November 10.


  1. ^ "Walter Van Tilburg Clark (1909 - 1971) - Find A Grave Memorial".
  2. ^ a b "Barbara Frances Morse Clark (1906 - 1969) - Find A Grave Memorial".
  3. ^ a b c "Walter Van Tilburg Clark - ONE: Online Nevada Encyclopedia". Nevada Humanities.
  4. ^ "Biography - Clark, Walter Van Tilburg (1909-1971)", Contemporary Authors (Biography), Thomson Gale, 2004.
  5. ^ "Walter Van Tilburg Clark Biography".
  6. ^ Walter Van Tilburg Clark: The reason for the Nevada author’s sudden silence is still shrouded in mystery by Michael Engelmann, accessed 08 November 2014 via
  7. ^ "SF State Magazine Spring 2007: The Ox-Bow Man at SF State, Walter Van Tilburg Clark - SF State Magazine".
  8. ^ "Walter Van Tilburg Clark Dies; Wrote 'The Ox‐Bow Incident'". NY Times. The New York Times Company. 12 November 1971. p. 50. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  9. ^ Benson, Jackson J. (2004). The Ox-Bow Man: A Biography of Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press.
  10. ^ "Nevada Writers Hall of Fame - UNR Library".
  11. ^ "Ann Ronald - ONE: Online Nevada Encyclopedia". Nevada Humanities.

External links[edit]