Under the Big Sky: A Biography of A. B. Guthrie Jr.

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Overview

Author of The Big Sky series, The Way West, and the screenplay for the classic film Shane, among other timeless stories of frontier mountain men, icon of Western literature A. B. “Bud” Guthrie Jr. brought blazing realism to the story of the West. That realism, which astounded and even shocked some readers, came out of the depth of Guthrie’s historical research and an acuity that had seldom been seen in the work of Western novelists. In Under the Big Sky Jackson J. Benson details the life and work of this true giant on the Western literary landscape.

Benson illuminates the critical details of Guthrie’s upbringing and education, the influence his intellectually inclined father had on him, his work as a newspaperman in Kentucky, and his time at Harvard University. Animated by the observations of friends, family, and fellow authors, this intimate account offers rare insight into the life and work of a remarkable writer and into the making of the literary West.
 

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post
“In this caring yet objective account of the novelist’s life, Jackson J. Benson uncovers the passions and demons in Guthrie’s life away from the desk, lending the biography meaning for general readers as well as writers.”—Washington Post 
ForeWord
"Guthrie was a man of ideas who was quick to question and eager to learn what prompted settlers to step outside the confines of their secure lives. Benson's biography follows Guthrie's own personal quest for transcendence."—ForeWord
Oregon Historical Quarterly

“A thorough, well-written, lively, and authoritative account of A. B. Guthrie Jr.’s life.”—Richard W. Etulain, Oregon Historical Quarterly
 

— Richard W. Etulain

William Kittredge
"Author of The Big Sky and the screenplay for Shane, Bud Guthrie was one of the giants of Western American storytelling. Under the Big Sky, Guthrie's biography by Jackson Benson, tells another fascinating story, that of Guthrie's life and the passions that drove him."

-William Kittredge, author of Hole in the Sky and The Willow Field

Page Stegner
"Jackson Benson has written major biographies of John Steinbeck, Wallace Stegner, and Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Now he gives us a masterful portrait of A. B. Guthrie Jr., thereby filling yet another important gap in the literary history of the American West."

-Page Stegner, author of Adios Amigos: Tales of Sustenance and Purification in the American West

Bloomsbury Review
“One measure of a writer’s biography is the degree to which it expands one’s appreciation of the author’s work and increases the pleasure of reading it. Good biographies should also give readers insight into the people being written about: why they were who they were, why they became who they became. Under the Big Sky succeeds on all counts.”—Bloomsbury Review
William Kittredge

“Author of The Big Sky and the screenplay for Shane, Bud Guthrie was one of the giants of Western American storytelling. Under the Big Sky, Guthrie''s biography by Jackson Benson, tells another fascinating story, that of Guthrie''s life and the passions that drove him.”—William Kittredge, author of Hole in the Sky and The Willow Field

Montana Quarterly

"[Under the Big Sky] is a good picture of the man overall, one whose brother Chick described as 'a smart aleck and a wise guy.' But one who gave us all an enduring history of the West through fiction."—Pete Warzel, Montana Quarterly

— Pete Warzel

Oregon Historical Quarterly - Richard W. Etulain
“A thorough, well-written, lively, and authoritative account of A. B. Guthrie Jr.’s life.”—Richard W. Etulain, Oregon Historical Quarterly
 
Montana Quarterly - Pete Warzel
"[Under the Big Sky] is a good picture of the man overall, one whose brother Chick described as 'a smart aleck and a wise guy.' But one who gave us all an enduring history of the West through fiction."—Pete Warzel, Montana Quarterly
Washington Post
"In this caring yet objective account of the novelist's life, Jackson J. Benson uncovers the passions and demons in Guthrie's life away from the desk, lending the biography meaning for general readers as well as writers."
Bloomsbury Review

"One measure of a writer's biography is the degree to which it expands one's appreciation of the author's work and increases the pleasure of reading it. Good biographies should also give readers insight into the people being written about: why they were who they were, why they became who they became. Under the Big Sky succeeds on all counts."

ForeWord
"Guthrie was a man of ideas who was quick to question and eager to learn what prompted settlers to step outside the confines of their secure lives. Benson's biography follows Guthrie's own personal quest for transcendence."
Oregon Historical Quarterly
"Benson's biography provides a thorough, well-written, lively, and authoritative account of A.B. Guthrie, Jr.'s life."

— Richard W. Etulain, Oregon Historical Quarterly

Gerald Bartell
In this caring yet objective account of the novelist's life, Jackson J. Benson uncovers the passions and demons in Guthrie's life away from the desk, lending the biography meaning for general readers as well as writers…Benson values detail, as did Guthrie. Many scenes in the biography have the rich appeal of good fiction.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Alfred Bertram "Bud" Guthrie Jr. (1901–91) may not be a household name, but his novels The Big Sky and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Way West and his screenplay for Shane are notable achievements, each resulting, in part, from Guthrie's enormous passion for the history of the West. Benson (The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer; Wallace Stegner) relays Guthrie's birth in Bedford, IN, and his childhood in Choteau, MT, where he developed a love of nature, which influenced Guthrie's later activism on behalf of the environment. Guthrie had a natural tendency for hard work and a steely determination; these characteristics coupled with his tough-minded reporting experience and a decided taste for realism were major contributions to his depiction of the West and his popularity. Guthrie drank too much, was considered by some to be a womanizer, married twice, and experienced family problems—none of which diminished his reputation as a great talent. VERDICT The impact of Guthrie's view of the frontier cannot be underestimated. This biography is recommended for fans of Guthrie's books, Western enthusiasts, and literature scholars.—Robert Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN


—Robert Kelly
Kirkus Reviews
A welcome biography of the Western novelist and environmentalist. Born in Indiana in 1901 and raised in Choteau, Mont.-which Benson (The Ox-Bow Man: A Biography of Walter Van Tilburg Clark, 2004, etc.) rightly calls "the center of his writing universe"-Alfred Bertram "Bud" Guthrie Jr. grew up in a bookish household and got ink in his blood the old-fashioned way, by hand-setting type and feeding a linotype machine. In 1926, he moved to Kentucky to work for a newspaper, eventually covering politics and, as Benson wryly notes, acquiring two requisites of an old-timey scrivener: alcoholism and cynicism. In the late '30s, Guthrie wrote his first novel, Murders at Moon Dance, which was not published until 1943-and about which he would say, "I can't say it is the worst book ever written, but I've long considered it as a contender." Better things would come with his best-known novel, The Big Sky, published in 1947 and hailed in the national press-despite some quibbles about anachronisms in his portrayal of the West at the time of the mountain men, "lavishly embellished," as one reviewer wrote, "with poetical foofaraw." Guthrie later went to work writing and doctoring the scripts of western movies, including Shane, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. Broad fame largely eluded him, but he earned a local reputation in the environs of Missoula, Mont., for being a barfly. Involvement with local conservation issues and the university rehabilitated that reputation in time. Toward the end of his life, he would assert, "Thomas Jefferson once swore enmity against any tyranny over the mind of man. I have sworn opposition to abusers of the land." Benson offers a sympathetic, well-writtenportrait that is long on the life but a little short on the literature-which is perhaps understandable, since Guthrie is little read these days. A worthy treatment of an interesting subject, which, one hopes, will inspire renewed interest in Guthrie's body of work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803222861
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,029,904
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jackson J. Benson is an emeritus professor of American literature at San Diego State University and the author of ten books. Among them are five biographies of Western writers, including The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer, which won the PEN USA award for nonfiction, and Wallace Stegner: His Life and Work, which won the Evans Biography Award, and is available in a Bison Books edition. He and his wife live part of the year in La Mesa, California, and part in a cabin in the Sierras.
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