Blew, Mary Clearman 1939- (Mary Clearman)

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BLEW, Mary Clearman 1939- (Mary Clearman)

PERSONAL: Born December 10, 1939, in Lewistown, MT; daughter of Albert (a rancher) and Doris (Welch) Hogeland; married Ted T. Clearman (divorced, 1972); married Robert Blew (a businessman), August 18, 1978 (died, 1987); children: (first marriage) Jack, Elizabeth; (second marriage) Rachel. Education: University of Montana, B.A. (English, Latin; with honors), 1962, M.A., 1963; University of Missouri, Ph.D., 1969.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—Dept. of English, University of Idaho, P.O. Box 441102, Moscow, ID 83844. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Writer. University of Missouri, instructor, 1963-69; Northern Montana College, Havre, instructor and chair of English department, 1969-79, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, 1979-87; Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston, ID, 1990-94; University of Idaho, Moscow, professor of English, 1994—, director of creative writing, 1996-99.

AWARDS, HONORS: Honorary doctorate from Carroll College, Helena, MT, 1997; Pacific Northwest Booksellers awards, 1990, for Runaway: A Collection of Stories, and 1991, for All But the Waltz: Essays on a Montana Family; recipient of two Montana Awards in the Humanities and the H. G. Merriam Award for Distinguished Contribution to Montana Literature.



(As Mary Clearman) Lambing Out, and Other Stories, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1977, published under name Mary Clearman Blew, University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK), 2001.

Runaway: A Collection of Stories, Confluence Press (Lewiston, ID), 1990.

All but the Waltz: Essays on a Montana Family, Viking (New York, NY), 1991, published as All but the Waltz: A Memoir of Five Generations in the Life of a Montana Family, Penguin (New York, NY), 1992.

Balsamroot: A Memoir, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.

Bone Deep in Landscape: Writing, Reading, and Place, University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK), 1999.

Sister Coyote: Montana Stories, Lyons Press (New York, NY), 2000.


(With others) Passages West: Nineteen Stories of Youth and Identity, Confluence Press (Lewiston, ID), 1990.

(With Kim Barnes) Circle of Women: An Anthology ofContemporary Western Women Writers, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Written on Water: Essays on Idaho Rivers, University of Idaho Press (Moscow, ID), 2001.

Margaret Bell, When Montana and I Were Young: AFrontier Childhood ("Women in the West" series), University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2002.

Work represented in anthologies, including O. Henry Prize collections and Best American Short Stories; contributor to periodicals.

SIDELIGHTS: Mary Clearman Blew is a Montana-born writer whose work encompasses the hardship and romance of the West. The great-granddaughter of homesteaders, she was born into a ranching family and married at eighteen. She had two children, but the marriage failed. However, Blew was able to complete her education and become a teacher, like Mary Welch, the grandmother who helped finance her schooling.

"Lambing Out," Blew's first published story, became the title of her first collection several years later. Published in 1977, all of the stories but one are set in Montana. Four of the seven feature female protagonists, and ranch life is the central theme.

The following year, Blew remarried and had another daughter, nearly twenty years after the birth of her first child. She separated from her husband in 1987, and he died later in the same year. By then, Blew had already left Montana to teach in Idaho. Three years later, her Runaway: A Collection of Stories was published, containing fourteen stories set in central Montana. Ten are about women, and several of those are teachers, like Mary Welch and Blew's aunt Imogene.

Karen Mathieson wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Blew "certainly knows this world, which is evoked with great immediacy. . . . Blew makes readers privy to the clanking, dusty, bloody, reeking reality of home on the range." The title story is about a nun who is taken for a wild ride by a bay mare. Themes include alcoholism, aggression, sexuality, and violence. C. L. Rawlins commented in a Western American Literature review that "the characters offer themselves to our kinship, never seeming less than human. Runaway shows a mature, uncondescending style along with that most vital knack: it confronts horror without ever relinquishing compassion or hope."

All but the Waltz: Essays on a Montana Family contains eleven entries which describe the harshness of life on the prairie and the toll it took on the women and men of Blew's family over five generations, beginning in 1882. Ivan Doig wrote in Washington Post Book World that Blew "is terrific at offhand information about what it was like to get by in the American outback. . . . Blew's memoir is a now necessary chronicle of what might be called uncolonizing, coming to terms with century-old illusions about wringing prosperity from the high dry plains. . . . This is a brave book and an enduring one."

One of the stories in All but the Waltz, titled "Auntie," is about Imogene, and Balsamroot: A Memoir is a tribute to Blew's aunt, who also served as a second mother to the author. Imogene left Montana in 1942, after being injured in a farming accident, to teach in Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. She lived alone for forty years, and at age seventy-nine, she sold her home and moved to Idaho to be near her niece. Her life deteriorated with the onset of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and eventually, she was placed in a nursing home. Blew then reconstructed her life, in part using the diaries Imogene had begun in 1933. The balsamroot of the title is a wildflower that turns the Montana hillsides yellow in summer. However, according to Susan Lowell, writing in the New York Times Book Review, in "Blew's lucid, candid, haunting . . . memoir, balsamroot becomes an emblem of love. But this is no sentimental rosebud. It's a bouquet for a demented old woman; it's also one of the links that connect a place and its inhabitants from generation to generation."

In Bone Deep in Landscape: Writing, Reading, and Place, Blew reflects on how leaving Montana for Idaho has shaped her as a woman and a writer, and explores her relationship to other Western women writers, particularly Bertha Muzzy Bower, Dorothy Johnson, and Mildred Walker. Blew writes of her love of quilting and riding and leads the reader back and forth across the Continental Divide. She compares her own searching with that of explorers like Lewis and Clark and offers stories of Native tribes. Vanessa Hall commented in Western American Literature that Blew opens by "describing her process of quilting a Double Wedding Ring quilt, a process which serves as a metaphor for this interlocking collection of creative nonfiction pieces."

Gregory L. Morris wrote in Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, that Blew "embraces the wide world of contemporary western writing, with its problematic tension between nostalgia and authenticity and with its overriding concern with the meanings of the western landscape. As Blew comes to recognize, her own womanly, writerly identity is wrapped up—for better or for worse—in that intense relation to geography." Women's Review of Books contributor Jan Z. Grover noted that Bone Deep is not primarily a memoir, and wrote that "what Blew is up to most of the time is applying the external correctives of place to her accounts of personal, family, and literary history. She searches for the bright particulars that convey the texture of life in northeastern Montana."

Sister Coyote: Montana Stories is a collection that includes the title novella and six short stories. The long piece contains subplots that follow two female travelers, one a woman and the other a coyote who is hunted by men flying overhead in a plane. Laura appears in two stories, first in "Kids in the Dark," as a teen illegally hunting deer with the boys, and later as the mother of a thirteen-year-old boy in "Hunter Safety." The final story, "Varia's Revenge," is about an elderly woman who locks a young hunter in an outhouse at gunpoint after he mistakenly kills her favorite mare.

Blew has edited several volumes, including a memoir of Margaret Bell titled When Montana and I Were Young: A Frontier Childhood. Bell (1888-1982) was the first white child born in Great Falls, Montana, the daughter of an Irish-immigrant waitress and a gambler who disappeared shortly after. Her mother married Hedge Wolfe, and after she died he moved Bell and her three half-sisters to Canada, where the eight year old was sexually abused by both her uncle and her stepfather. She lived an incredibly harsh life, suffering from the elements and the people who betrayed her as she broke horses and herded cattle. She attempted suicide and found respite at a convent school in Washington, but Bell was refused acceptance into the order because of her poor health, a result of her many years of beatings and abuse. She then returned to Montana, and the memoir ends when she is eighteen. Bell had two failed marriages and was later estranged from four of her five children, clearly reflecting the scars of her early life. Her skill as a horsewoman earned her a place in the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

During the last three decades of her life, Bell, who had only four years of formal education, tried, but failed, to find a publisher for her memoirs; they were ultimately delivered into the hands of Blew, who edited the manuscript into publishable form. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that "this powerful account belongs on the shelf of every student of pioneer history or women's history."



Blew, Mary Clearman, All but the Waltz: Essays on aMontana Family, Viking (New York, NY), 1991, published as All but the Waltz: A Memoir of Five Generations in the Life of a Montana Family, Penguin (New York, NY), 1992.

Blew, Mary Clearman, Balsamroot: A Memoir, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.

Comer, Krista, Landscapes of the New West: Gender and Geography in Contemporary Women's Writing, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1999.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 256: Twentieth-Century Western Writers, Third Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002, pp. 12-18.

Morris, Gregory L., Talking up a Storm: Voices of theNew West, University of Nebraska (Lincoln, NE), 1994, pp. 25-32.


Belles Lettres, spring, 1995, Renee H. Shea, review of Balsamroot: A Memoir, p. 73.

Booklist, July, 1994, Pat Monaghan, review of Circle of Women: An Anthology of Contemporary Western Women Writers, p. 1915.

Journal of the West, April, 1994, Keith Edgerton, review of All but the Waltz: Essays on a Montana Family, p. 90.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1994, review of Balsamroot, p. 446.

Library Journal, June 1, 1994, Cheryl L. Conway, review of Circle of Women, p. 106; April 1, 2001, Rebecca Miller, review of Written on Water: Essays on Idaho Rivers, p. 102.

Michigan Quarterly Review, winter, 2001, Richard Francavaiglia, review of Bone Deep in Landscape: Writing, Reading, and Place, p. 238.

New York Times Book Review, November 25, 1990, Karen Mathieson, review of Runaway: A Collection of Stories, p. 18; December 8, 1991, Susan Allen Toth, review of All but the Waltz, p. 14; August 21, 1994, Susan Lowell, review of Balsamroot, p. 19.

Prairie Schooner, summer, 1993, Gregory L. Morris, review of All but the Waltz, p. 159.

Publishers Weekly, July 31, 2000, review of SisterCoyote: Montana Stories, p. 72; January 7, 2002, review of When Montana and I Were Young: A Frontier Childhood, p. 53.

Smithsonian, October, 1991, Donald Dale Jackson, review of All but the Waltz, p. 171.

Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, spring, 2000, Gregory L. Morris, review of Bone Deep in Landscape, pp. 139-140.

Washington Post Book World, September 29, 1991, Ivan Doig, review of All but the Waltz, p. 6.

Western American Literature, fall, 1991, C. L. Rawlins, review of Runaway, pp. 280-281; fall, 2000, Vanessa Hall, review of Bone Deep in Landscape, pp. 322-323.

Women's Review of Books, May, 2000, Jan Z. Grover, review of Bone Deep in Landscape, pp. 9-10; April, 2002, Mary Zeiss Stange, review of When Montana and I Were Young, p. 12.