Walter Van Tilburg Clark

Walter Van Tilburg Clark
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. He was the first inductee into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame in 1988. Two of his 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 and went to college in Reno, 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.[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.

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 earning five O. Henry Prize's between 1941 and 1945.[2] Since this initial success, some of these stories (notably "Hook" and "The Wind And The Snow Of Winter") have been anthologized consistently as classic examples of the genre.[3][4] 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 prolifically after 1950, Clark published no more fiction during the remaining two decades of his life. Thereafter, he 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 worskshop 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.[5] He remained there until 1962.[6]

Clark would return 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 spent the last ten years of his life editing The Journals of Alfred Doten, He died almost two years to the day after his wife's death, and both died of cancer, as his biographer Jackson J. Benson noted in his biography of Clark, The Ox-Bow Man.[7] 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.[8]

Books by Clark


Further reading


  1. "Biography - Clark, Walter Van Tilburg (1909-1971)", Contemporary Authors (Biography), Thomson Gale, 2004.
  4. 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
  7. Benson, Jackson J. (2004). The Ox-Bow Man: A Biography of Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press.
  8. Nevada Writers Hall of Fame
  9. Ann Ronald
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