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
Died November 10, 1971(1971-11-10) (aged 62)
Virginia City, Nevada
Nationality American
Occupation Writer
Spouse(s) Barbara Frances Morse

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 is known primarily for his novels and short stories. As a writer, he 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 and went to college in Reno, where his father 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.[1] It is a tale about a lynch mob mistaking three innocent travelers for cattle rustlers. When the travelers are killed, the lynch mob finds that they were wrong. The book examines law and order as well as culpability. It was well received and gave Clark literary acclaim that was unusual for a writer of Westerns. In 1943 it was adapted into a movie featuring Henry Fonda.

Clark's short story, "The Portable Phonograph" - a poignant depiction of survivors in the aftermath of nuclear war - is also well known. He published two more novels, The City of Trembling Leaves and The Track of the Cat, and a collection of his short stories over the next decade, which were also well received. His short stories (such as "Hook", "The Wind And The Snow Of Winter", and "The Portable Phonograph") have been anthologized consistently as classic examples of short stories since they first began being published in national magazines during the 1940s.[2] Two Hollywood movies were inspired by Clark's writings, and one of these (The Ox-Bow Incident) received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.

Although he continued to write prolifically after 1950, Clark published very little. He had several academic positions, serving for a time during the 1950s as 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.

He returned later to Reno to serve as the writer-in-residence at the university from 1962 until his death (in Virginia City, Nevada) on November 10, 1971. He died almost two years to the day after his wife, and both died of cancer, as his biographer Jackson J. Benson noted in his biography of Clark, The Ox-Bow Man. 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.[3]

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, 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), 1951. 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.
  • Christmas Comes to Hialsen (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.
  • 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 readings about the author[edit]

  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 28, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.
  • Benson, Jackson J., The Ox-Bow Man: A Biography of Walter Van Tilburg Clark, University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 2004.
  • 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.
  • 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. ^ "Biography - Clark, Walter Van Tilburg (1909-1971)", Contemporary Authors (Biography), Thomson Gale, 2004.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Nevada Writers Hall of Fame

External links[edit]