Biography of Larry Watson

Larry Watson is an American writer of novels, short stories, poetry, essays, and reviews. Born in Rugby, Texas, he was raised in Bismarck, North Dakota and attended its public schools before receiving his B.A. and M.A. from the University of North Dakota. He completed a Ph.D. program in creative writing at the University of Utah, and has an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Ripon College. Throughout his education, Watson received numerous grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Montana 1948, published in 1993, was Watson’s second novel. The story of the prominent Hayden family in a post-WWII Montana, Watson’s first book established him as a leading voice in the genre of revisionist Western writing. Justice, a prequel to Montana 1948, came in 1996, and was followed by White Crosses and Laura soon after. One of his more recent works, Let Him Go (2013), is being made into a movie starring Kevin Costner and Diane Lane.

Watson’s works are all set in the rural West he calls home, and feature gritty, hard-working protagonists and antagonists that struggle with issues of morality, honor, and truth. His prose is known for its simplicity, clarity, and directness, but through the use of evocative figures of speech and imagery, his writing is able to create vivid pictures. Watson’s ability to write sparse novels that are somehow still rich in characterization, insights into life, and ponderings on the human condition has made numerous critics compare him to Harper Lee, Willa Cather, and Ivan Doig (Bowler 1994 and Vaughan 2017).

However, when describing his own writing style and process, Watson sets himself apart. He says he writes his stories slowly, sometimes writing just 100 words per day. And despite his novels being set in the American West, he doesn’t consider himself a “Western” writer. Afraid of pinning himself down and limiting his writing, he avoids labeling his work as “westerners” based loosely on his own experiences in the American West. Instead, he prefers to make linkages between his writing and larger universal themes (Vaughan 2017).

Watson’s work certainly has a universal appeal. His fiction has been published in ten foreign languages, and received a bevy of accolades and prizes. These include awards from the Milkweed Press, Friends of American Writers, Mountain and Plains Booksellers Association, Mountain and Plains Library Association, New York Public Library, Wisconsin Library Association, Critics’ Choice, and The High Plains Book Award. His short stories, poems, essays, and book reviews have appeared in a myriad of journals and newspapers, including the Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

After teaching writing and literature at the University of Wisconsin for 25 years, Watson joined the faculty at Marquette University in 2003 as a visiting professor. In 2018 he retired, and currently lives with his wife in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He and his wife have two daughters, and two grandchildren.

Study Guides on Works by Larry Watson

Montana 1948 was written in Wisconsin and published in 1993 by Larry Watson as the follow-up to his doctoral thesis-turned-first novel In a Dark Time. The setting within Montana is the fictional town of Bentrock just—as the title indicates—a few...