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About the Author: Norman Maclean

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Born in Clarinda, Iowa, on December 23, 1902, Maclean was the son of Clara Davidson (1873-1952) and the Rev. John Maclean (1862-1941), a Scottish Presbyterian minister, who managed much of the education of the young Norman and his brother Paul (1906-1938) until 1913. The family relocated to Missoula, Montana in 1909. The following years were a considerable influence on and inspiration to his writings, appearing prominently in the short story The Woods, Books, and Truant Officers (1977), and semi-autobiographical novella A River Runs Through It (1976).

Too young to enlist in the military during World War I, Maclean worked in logging camps and for the United States Forest Service in what is now the Bitterroot National Forest of northwestern Montana. The novella USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky and the story "Black Ghost" in Young Men and Fire (1992) are semi-fictionalized accounts of these experiences.

Maclean attended Dartmouth College, where he served as editor-in-chief of the humor magazine the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern; the editor-in-chief to follow him was Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. He was also a member of the Sphinx (senior society) and Beta Theta Pi. He received his Bachelor of Arts in 1924, and chose to remain in Hanover, New Hampshire, and serve as an instructor until 1926—a time he recalled in "This Quarter I Am Taking McKeon: A Few Remarks on the Art of Teaching." He began graduate studies in English at the University of Chicago in 1928. Three years later he was hired as a professor at University of Chicago, where he received three Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. On 24 September 1931 Maclean married Jessie Burns (died 1968), a red-headed Scots-Irish woman from Wolf Creek, Montana. They later had two children: a daughter Jean (born in 1942), now a lawyer; and a son, John (born in 1943), now a journalist and author of Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire (1999), and two other books, Fire & Ashes (2003) and The Thirtymile Fire: A Chronicle of Bravery and Betrayal (2007).

In 1940, Maclean earned his doctorate from the University of Chicago where during World War II he declined a commission in Naval intelligence to serve as Dean of Students. During the war he also served as Director of the Institute on Military Studies, and co-authored Manual of Instruction in Military Maps and Aerial Photographs. At the University of Chicago, Maclean taught Shakespeare and the Romantic poets, and he produced two scholarly articles, "From Action to Image: Theories of the Lyric in the Eighteenth Century" and "Episode, Scene, Speech, and Word: The Madness of Lear." (The latter essay elaborates a theory of tragedy that Maclean would revisit in his later work; the essay is available here.) From approximately 1959 to 1963, Maclean worked on a book about George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Big Horn that he never completed, but from which excerpts were recently published. During his last decade on the Chicago faculty, Maclean held an endowed chair as William Rainey Harper Professor of English. After his retirement in 1973, he began, as his children Jean and John had often encouraged him, to write down the stories he liked to tell. His most acclaimed story, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories was published in 1976, the first work of original fiction published by the University of Chicago Press. This title was nominated by a selection committee to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Letters in 1977, but the full committee ignored the nomination and did not award a Pulitzer in that category for the year. A River Runs Through It was adapted into a motion picture directed by Robert Redford


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Goodreads rating: 4.16

Paperback, Published in Oct 2001 by University Of Chicago Press

ISBN10: 0226500667 | ISBN13: 9780226500669

Page count: 239

Just as Norman Maclean writes at the end of "A River Runs through It" that he is "haunted by waters," so have readers been haunted by his novella. A retired English professor who began writing fiction at the age of 70, Maclean produced what is now recognized as one of the classic American stories of the twentieth century. Originally published in 1976, A River Runs through It and Other Stories now celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary, marked by this new edition that includes a foreword by Annie Proulx.

Maclean grew up in the western Rocky Mountains in the first decades of the twentieth century. As a young man he worked many summers in logging camps and for the United States Forest Service. The two novellas and short story in this collection are based on his own experiences—the experiences of a young man who found that life was only a step from art in its structures and beauty. The beauty he found was in reality, and so he leaves a careful record of what it was like to work in the woods when it was still a world of horse and hand and foot, without power saws, "cats," or four-wheel drives. Populated with drunks, loggers, card sharks, and whores, and set in the small towns and surrounding trout streams and mountains of western Montana, the stories concern themselves with the complexities of fly fishing, logging, fighting forest fires, playing cribbage, and being a husband, a son, and a father.

By turns raunchy, poignant, caustic, and elegiac, these are superb tales which express, in Maclean's own words, "a little of the love I have for the earth as it goes by." A first offering from a 70-year-old writer, the basis of a top-grossing movie, and the first original fiction published by the University of Chicago Press, A River Runs through It and Other Stories has sold more than a million copies. As Proulx writes in her foreword to this new edition, "In 1990 Norman Maclean died in body, but for hundreds of thousands of readers he will live as long as fish swim and books are made."

"Altogether beautiful in the power of its feeling... As beautiful as anything in Thoreau or Hemingway." —Alfred Kazin, Chicago Tribune Book World

"It is an enchanted tale... I have read the story three times now, and each time it seems fuller." —Roger Sale, New York Review of Books

"Maclean's book—acerbic, laconic, deadpan—rings out of a rich American tradition that includes Mark Twain, Kin Hubbard, Richard Bissell, Jean Shepherd, and Nelson Algren. I love its sound." —James R. Frakes, New York Times Book Review

"The title novella is the prize... Something unique and marvelous: a story that is at once an evocation of nature's miracles and realities and a probing of human mysteries. Wise, witty, wonderful, Maclean spins his tales, casts his flies, fishes the rivers and the woods for what he remembers from his youth in the Rockies." —Publishers Weekly

"Ostensibly a 'fishing story,' 'A River Runs through It' is really an autobiographical elegy that captivates readers who have never held a fly rod in their hand. In it the art of casting a fly becomes a ritual of grace, a metaphor for man's attempt to move into nature." —Andrew Rosenheim, The Independent

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