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Nineteen-nineteen

Norman Maclean teaching his popular Shakespeare class in 1970.

Norman Maclean teaching his popular Shakespeare class in 1970 at the University of Chicago.

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Episode 42 (22:07)

Thank you for joining us for the forty-second episode of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness History Project. In this episode, titled “Nineteen-nineteen” we hear an excerpt from “USFS1919: A Ranger, A Cook and a Hole in the Sky”, which makes up part of Norman MacLean’s best-known work: A River Runs Through It.

Born in Clarinda, Iowa, on December 23, 1902, Norman was the son of Clara and the Reverend John Norman Maclean, a Presbyterian minister, who managed much of the education of Norman and his brother Paul. In 1909, the family relocated to Missoula, Montana, where the landscape made a considerable impression on the young Norman. Because he was too young to enlist in the military during World War I, Norman worked in logging camps and for the United States Forest Service in what is now the Bitterroot National Forest of northwestern Montana. The novella USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky is a semi-fictionalized accounts of these experiences.

In 1931, Norman married Jessie Burns, and in 1940, he earned his doctorate from the University of Chicago where he declined a commission in Naval intelligence to serve as Dean of Students during World War II. At the University of Chicago, Maclean taught Shakespeare and the Romantic poets, and during his last decade on the Chicago faculty, Maclean held an endowed chair as William Rainey Harper Professor of English.
After his retirement in 1973, he began to write down the stories he liked to tell to his children, John and Jean. A River Runs Through It and Other Stories was published in 1976, the first work of original fiction published by the University of Chicago Press and was nominated by a selection committee to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Letters in 1977, but the full committee ignored the nomination and did not award a Pulitzer in that category for the year.

Norman Maclean died on August 2, 1990, in Chicago, at the age of 87 of natural causes.

This excerpt gives a poet’s view of the landscape now known as the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, and highlights some of the differences and similarities to the area today.

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