Watson, Larry 1947–

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Watson, Larry 1947–


Born 1947, in Rugby, ND; son of a sheriff; married Susan Gibbons, 1967; children: Elly and Amy. Education: University of North Dakota, B.A., M.A.; University of Utah, Ph.D.


Home—Milwaukee, WI. Office—P.O. Box 511520, 1011 Washington Ave. S. 300, Milwaukee, WI 53203. E-mail—[email protected]-watson.com.


Fiction writer and poet. University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, professor of English and creative writing, c. 1979-2003; Marquette University, visiting professor, 2003—. Taught and participated in writer's conferences in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, St. Malo and Caen, France.


National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship, 1987, literature fellowship, 2004; Milkweed National Fiction Prize, 1993, for Montana 1948; Doctor of Letters degree from Ripon College.



In a Dark Time, Scribners (New York, NY), 1980.

Montana 1948, Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), 1993.

White Crosses, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Laura, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Orchard, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Sundown, Yellow Moon, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2007.


Justice (fiction collection), Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), 1995.

Also author of the poetry collection Leaving Dakota, 1983. Contributor of short stories and poems to journals and quarterlies, including Gettysburg Review, New England Review, North American Review, and Mississippi Review. Contributor of essays and book reviews in periodicals, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Contributor to anthologies, including Essays for Contemporary Culture, Imagining Home, Off the Beaten Path, Baseball and the Game of Life, The Most Wonderful Books, These United States, and Writing America.


The movie rights to Montana 1948 and Justice were sold to Echo Lake Productions; White Crosses has been optioned for film.


The novels and poems of Larry Watson reflect his familiarity with the landscape and people of the western plains. Watson himself was born and raised in North Dakota, and is the son and grandson of smalltown sheriffs. Perhaps not surprisingly, his fiction is marked by "tight human ties, tough terrain, and pre-'60s ethos," as noted by Norman Oder in Publishers Weekly. The author himself admitted to Publishers Weekly: "I sometimes feel I'm working the dark side of Lake Wobegon." That may be the case, but Watson has emerged as a mainstream writer who presents his readers with "smooth, economical writing; compelling themes; memorable characters; [and] natural dialogue. He manages unusually well the challenge of writing rich, accessible, literary realism for a general audience," praised Writer reviewer Ronald Kovach.

Watson's 1993 novel, Montana 1948, is set in Bentrock, Montana, a fictional town only a dozen miles from both the Canadian border and North Dakota. This challenging countryside is the home of David Hayden, the son of the local sheriff, who over the course of one summer observes conflict and violence within his community and his own family. Nation reviewer Chris Faatz applauded what he termed an "utterly mesmerizing story." Ellen Akins, writing for the New York Times Book Review, noted Watson's approach to his novel: "A story, for this author, isn't necessarily what happens; it's that, of course, but also everything that came before and made what happens inevitable, or at least likely, as well as anything that might inform a reader about all the other stories this one touches." Montana 1948 won the Milkweed National Fiction Prize and was one of Milkweed Editions' biggest-selling titles, going through more than six printings.

In 1995, Watson's Justice was published. This collection of short stories details the history of the Haydens and Bentrock leading to the events of Montana 1948. In the book, the Hayden sons, Frank and Wesley, take a disastrous camping trip that ultimately sets the stage for an exploration of the family history, dating from 1899. A Booklist critic praised the interrelated tales as "an engrossing story of love, familial relationships, and secrets."

Laura, published in 2000, presents a departure for Watson. Set initially in Vermont and later in Minnesota, the novel explores a man's thirty-year obsession with a self-destructive poet named Laura Coe Pettit. Paul Finley, the protagonist, first meets Laura when she blunders into his room while attempting to seduce his father. From that chance meeting at age eleven, Paul becomes fascinated with Laura, although he rarely sees her. Inevitably, this obsession takes a toll on Paul's relationships with the other women in his life. A Publishers Weekly reviewer cited Laura for its "sharp dialogue and gorgeous, piquant language." Washington Post Book World contributor Howard Frank Mosher concluded: "Ultimately, the human heart has always been Larry Watson's principal territory. In its hard-won affirmation of the resilience of family love in the face of the darker forces of human nature, Laura is a beautifully realized work of fiction by a courageous and clear-eyed writer."

According to Kovach, the backbone of Watson's fiction is often intense emotional conflict and obsession. Like his previous work, 2003's Orchard is also built around these themes. Set in the 1950s, Henry House and his wife Sonja, a Norwegian immigrant, are increasingly growing apart as a result of the recent death of their four-year-old son. Sonja starts secretly posing for their neighbor Ned Weaver, a famous artist, who is also well known for his affairs with his models. Enamored by Ned's talent, his wife, Harriet, has learned to accept his indiscretions. Ned becomes obsessed with his newest muse, and soon Henry discovers his wife's secret and decides to take action. "Watson tells his story of these four people and their interactions obliquely, moving back and forth in time, building the drama and tension to a high pitch as the reader is presented with scenes of danger and violence," Mary Whipple wrote in her review of the book for Mostly Fiction Book Reviews. "The novel weaves the intimate details of their everyday lives in rural Door County, Wisconsin, into a powerful and riveting domestic tragedy," added Whipple. Booklist's Bill Ott regarded the novel as "another fine effort from a master of plainspoken prose." Kovach called the novel "a small masterpiece."



Booklist, September 1, 1993, review of Montana 1948, p. 38; January 15, 1994, review of Montana 1948, p. 866; March 15, 1994, review of Montana 1948, p. 1350; January 1, 1995, review of Justice, p. 801; January 1, 1996, review of Justice, p. 739; July, 2003, Bill Ott, review of Orchard, p. 1868.

Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 1993, Merle Rubin, review of Montana 1948, p. 13.

Entertainment Weekly, August 15, 2003, Emily Mead, review of Orchard, p. 82.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1994, review of Justice, p. 1494; May 15, 2003, review of Orchard, p. 713.

Kliatt, May, 1995, review of Montana 1948, p. 11; July, 1996, review of Justice, p. 24.

Library Journal, September 15, 1993, Barbara Hoffert, review of Montana 1948, p. 107; January 1994, review of Montana 1948, p. 61; June 15, 1994, review of Montana 1948, p. 120; December 1994, review of Justice, p. 135; March 1, 2003, Maureen Neville, review of Orchard, p. 121.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 10, 1993, review of Montana 1948, p. 2; April 30, 1995, review of Montana 1948, p. 13.

Midwest Living, July 1, 2003, Jennifer Wilson, review of Orchard, p. 34.

Nation, December 27, 1993, Chris Faatz, review of Montana 1948, pp. 808-809.

New York Times Book Review, December 12, 1993, Barbara Finkelstein, review of Montana 1948, p. 22; January 29, 1995, review of Justice, pp. 14-15; August 17, 1997, Ruth Coughlin, review of White Crosses, p. 16; September 3, 2000, Bruce Allen, review of Laura, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, July 12, 1993, review of Montana 1948, pp. 69-70; November 28, 1994, Ellen Akins, review of Justice, p. 42-43; January 23, 1995, Norman Oder, "Larry Watson: ‘I'm Working the Dark Side of Lake Wobegone,’" pp. 48-49; March 13, 1995, review of Montana 1948, p. 67; March 18, 1996, review of Justice, p. 64; April 3, 2000, review of Laura, p. 59; November 17, 2003, review of Orchard, p. 26; June 18, 2007, review of Sundown, Yellow Moon, p. 31.

School Library Journal, September, 1995, Patricia Q. Noonan, review of Justice, p. 235; December, 1995, review of Justice, p. 25.

Times Literary Supplement, August 18, 1995, review of Montana 1948, p. 20.

Tribune Books, September 21, 2003, review of Orchard, p. 4; December 7, 2003, review of Orchard, p. 6.

Washington Post Book World, November 7, 1993, review of Montana 1948, p. 11; September 3, 2000, Howard Frank Mosher, "Poetic License," p. 6.

Western American Literature, winter, 1995, review of Montana 1948, p. 387.

Writer, July, 2004, Ronald Kovach, "Hearts in Conflict: Larry Watson Weaves Fine Novels from Emotional Tension," interview, p. 20.


Larry Watson Home Page,http://larry-watson.com (September 5, 2007).

Mostly Fiction Book Reviews,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (September 7, 2003), Mary Whipple, review of Orchard.

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