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The Norman Maclean Reader

Edited and with an Introduction by O. Alan Weltzien

In his eighty-seven years, Norman Maclean played many parts: fisherman, logger, firefighter, scholar, teacher. But it was a role he took up late in life, that of writer, that won him enduring fame and critical acclaim—as well as the devotion of readers worldwide. Though the 1976 collection A River Runs Through It and Other Stories was the only book Maclean published in his lifetime, it was an unexpected success, and the moving family tragedy of the title novella—based largely on Maclean’s memories of his childhood home in Montana—has proved to be one of the most enduring American stories ever written.

The Norman Maclean Reader is a wonderful addition to Maclean’s celebrated oeuvre. Bringing together previously unpublished materials with incidental writings and selections from his more famous works, the Reader will serve as the perfect introduction for readers new to Maclean, while offering longtime fans new insight into his life and career.

In this evocative collection, Maclean as both a writer and a man becomes evident. Perceptive, intimate essays deal with his career as a teacher and a literary scholar, as well as the wealth of family stories for which Maclean is famous. Complete with a generous selection of letters, as well as excerpts from a 1986 interview, The Norman Maclean Reader provides a fully fleshed-out portrait of this much admired author, showing us a writer fully aware of the nuances of his craft, and a man as at home in the academic environment of the University of Chicago as in the quiet mountains of his beloved Montana.

Various and moving, the works collected in The Norman Maclean Reader serve as both a summation and a celebration, giving readers a chance once again to hear one of American literature’s most distinctive voices.

See a website for Norman Maclean.

304 pages | 19 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature


“Smartly edited . . . the book brings together manuscripts and letters found among Maclean’s papers after his death in 1990, as well as hard-to-find essays, lectures and interviews. Maclean did not draw a distinction between his life and his fiction, and the material in the Reader, much of it available for the first time, burnishes his achievement.”

Wall Street Journal

“Bringing together letters, essays, speeches, and five draft chapters from his unfinished first book, the collection shows a man worrying through the mechanics of putting a story together. All writers may be self-obsessed, but in the case of Maclean, the rough and unfinished works, the drama of his revisions and deliberations lead us back to a central dynamic of his most finished work. Maclean’s stories are precisely about the difficulties and obstructions of storytelling. As such, he is a more difficult but more rewarding writer than one known simply for old-time tales of a lost American west. . . . The Norman Maclean Reader fills out and makes more human the impressions of the restless, inquiring storyteller we saw in previously published works. In his writings, at their best, we too feel the thrusts and strains. He is a writer of great beauty, in his own terms.”

Daniel Swift | Financial Times

"Maclean (1902-1990), an English professor at the University of Chicago, did not establish himself as a writer until late in his life, but quickly gained national acclaim in 1989 [sic] for A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. His posthumous nonfiction account of doomed firefighters, Young Men and Fire, was also praised by critics. Excerpts from both of these works are in this anthology, skillfully edited by Weltzien, to provide a broad and chronological selection from nearly four decades of Maclean’s writing. The book includes six previously unpublished pieces, five of them chapters from his uncompleted book on Custer, written between 1959 and 1963. Another standout piece is a 1986 interview in which Maclean ranges widely from the rhythms of prose, his own influences and his native state of Montana to creative writing, fly-fishing, and publishers who rejected A River Runs Through It. Readers of the two earlier books will find, as Weltzien phrases it, ’new biographical insights into one of the most remarkable and unexpected careers in American letters.’"

Publishers Weekly

"A solid, satisfying, well-made body of work by a patient craftsman."

Julia Keller | Chicago Tribune

"Fans will find a fleshed-out picture of the author’s approach to writing, teaching, art and life. New readers will be introduced to one of our most accomplished storytellers, plying his craft across a range of genres. . . . The addition of The Norman Maclean Reader to the author’s two slim published books is a windfall."

Tim Nulty | Seattle Times

"Weltzien has not only done great service for Norman Maclean’s readers, he has rightly expanded Maclean’s place in American literature. . . . For me, The Norman Maclean reader is discovered treasure."

Tom Wylie | Bloomsbury Review

"[Maclean’s] message is certainly tough . . . but it comes garlanded in a prose style very near to unsurpassed in the rhythms of its rolling anapests, its bright flashes of remembrance, its whispers out of time."

Philip Connors | Nation

"On every page . . . we hear Maclean’s voice—a voice that tells us . . . that our well-ordered loves reside at the intersection of people we know and the places we share with them."

Todd C. Ream | Books & Culture

Table of Contents

Introduction by O. Alan Weltzien


Edward S. Luce:
    Commanding General (Retired),
    Department of the Little Bighorn

From the Unfinished Custer Manuscript
    Chapter 1: The Hill
    Chapter 2: The Sioux
    Chapter 3: The Cheyennes
    Chapter 4: In Business
    Last Chapter: Shrine to Defeat


"This Quarter I am Taking McKeon":
    A Few Remarks on the Art of Teaching

"Billiards is a Good Game":
    Gamesmanship and America’s First Nobel Prize Scientist

Retrievers Good and Bad
Logging and Pimping and "Your Pal, Jim"
An Incident
The Woods, Books, and Truant Officers

The Pure and the Good
    On Baseball and Backpacking

Black Ghost
From Young Men and Fire
Interview with Norman Maclean


Letters to Robert M. Utley, 1955-1979
Letters to Marie Borroff, 1949-1986
Letters to Nick Lyons 1976-1981
Letters to Lois Jansson, 1979-1981

Suggestions for Further Reading

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