Walter Van Tilburg Clark is considered one of the most distinguished Nevada writers of the twentieth century. An author, poet, lecturer, and teacher, Clark's interpretations of the American West are his greatest legacy.
Clark was born August 3, 1909 in East Orland, Maine, to Walter Ernest, an educator and economist, and Euphemia Abrams Clark, a musician. In 1917, the family relocated to Reno, Nevada, where the elder Clark took a job as the president of the University of Nevada, a position he held until 1937. Clark attended Reno schools, excelling in English and literature. He studied at the University of Nevada and received both his bachelor's and master's degrees in English. He then taught at Reno High School and at the University of Nevada.
Over the course of his career, Clark held many brief positions teaching and lecturing across the country, including at the University of Vermont in 1933, where he worked as a teaching assistant while completing work on a second master's degree. This allowed him to return to the Northeast and spend time with his mother in the beloved family cabin in Maine. On October 14 of that year, he married Barbara Morse, with whom he would have two children—Robert Morse and Barbara Anne. In November, he received national recognition when two of his poems were featured in Poetry.
From 1936 to 1945, Clark taught English and coached athletics in Cazenovia, New York. During this period, he published several short stories such as "Hook," "The Buck in the Hills" and "The Wind and the Snow of Winter." These stories not only earned him national respect, but they also explored the western environment and man's relationship with nature, themes that resurfaced throughout his career. In October 1940, Clark published his first novel, The Ox-Bow Incident, which became a Twentieth Century Fox film starring Henry Fonda in 1943. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture but lost to Casablanca.
In May 1945, Random House published Clark's second novel, The City of Trembling Leaves. The strenuous schedule of teaching and coaching slowed his writing and took a tremendous toll on his health. To recuperate from exhaustion, Clark returned to the West, settling in Taos, New Mexico, where he socialized and intended to write. But he wrote little. He and Barbara drove to Nevada where they rented a house in Washoe Valley, between Reno and Carson City.
In 1949, Random House published Track of the Cat, and critics generally received it well. Later that summer, the family moved to Virginia City, Nevada, where they bought a home. Clark taught English at Virginia City High School for the 1950-1951 school year. Also in 1950, Clark's fourth major publication, The Watchful Gods and Other Stories, a collection of short stories, was released. In the fall of 1952, Clark accepted a half-time teaching position at the University of Nevada, but resigned in June 1953 in protest over a dispute between the faculty and administration.
From 1954 to 1956, Clark lived and taught in Missoula, Montana. He moved to the Bay Area in 1956 and taught at San Francisco State until 1962. In November 1957, Warner Brothers Pictures released Track of the Cat starring Robert Mitchum. In the summer of 1962, Clark accepted an eighteen-month contract with the University of Nevada to prepare a biography of the Comstock writer Alfred Doten, which led to his editing of Doten's journals. The project consumed him until his death. In 1968, he and Barbara move back to Virginia City, purchasing and refurbishing the home they had first rented in 1949.
The Clarks lived in their Comstock home for the rest of their lives. Barbara was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 1969, and after a brief illness, died on November 12. For the next two years, Clark continued to teach, edit, and lecture locally until he was diagnosed with cancer in January 1971. He resigned from the University of Nevada in June and died on November 10. He was laid to rest beside Barbara in the Masonic Cemetery in Virginia City.
Literature of Walter Van Tilburg Clark