Friday, October 23, 2015


Ivan Doig, maybe in the Seventies

Ivan Doig died early this morning.  He was my age.  Actually I'm four months younger.  The cause was "multiple myeloma" a blood plasma cancer that usually has a trajectory of eight years or so.  There is no cure.  It's one of those systemic breakdowns of check-and-balance body functions that often have their roots in childhood poor nutrition or hardship.  Certainly, Doig's childhood was WWII and not the easiest even in Portland where I was.  Ivan was growing up in marginal sheep-camps and ranches.  To accurately state he was a "ranch hand" one would have to add "teenaged."  He tells about the day he and his father narrowly averted a nearby buffalo jump becoming a sheep jump in a thunderstorm near Heart Butte.  According to him, he walked off the job and cut hay the rest of the summer.

Ivan and Jimmy Welch were about the same age, but Welch attended high school in Minneapolis.   He died of cancer several years ago.   Mary Clearman Blew was also born in 1939, but as far as I know, she's still kicking.  Like Ivan she also grew up on a ranch and they were good friends.  But Ivan was leery of Indians and never wrote about them.  Nevertheless, he wrote an anti-racism novel: "Prairie Nocturne,"   which went nowhere.

Ivan and I attended Northwestern University just north of Chicago and were probably in classes together but didn't know each other.  He earned a BS in journalism, went on to an MA there, and then took a Ph.D. in history at the University of Washington.  My step-daughter, whose father was Bob Scriver, was a year older than Ivan but also graduated from Valier High School.   Then immediately married.   Ivan said she seemed MUCH older and he was a little scared by her. When I graduated from NU, I came to teach in Browning.  People around here like knowing these sorts of timelines so they can fit themselves into them.

Ivan was the kind of willing and smart nerd that teachers love and was in many plays -- all that sort of thing.  I think he was boarding in Dupuyer part of that time.

Just now I went over and took a couple of photos of the school -- just completed in Ivan's day and not his fav kind of architecture.

They tell me his English teacher, who was one of those amazing intellectual women of the Fifties, lived in this house.  She had a lot of bookcases, the locals report.

  • The Sea Runners (1982) - an adventure novel about four Swedes escaping from New Archangel, today's Sitka, Alaska
  • English Creek (1984)
  • Dancing at the Rascal Fair (1987)
  • Ride with Me, Mariah Montana (1990)
  • Bucking the Sun (1996)
  • Mountain Time (1999)
  • Prairie Nocturne (2003)
  • The Whistling Season (2006)
  • The Eleventh Man (2008)
  • Work Song (2010)
  • The Bartender's Tale (2012)
  • Sweet Thunder (2013)
  • Last Bus to Wisdom (2015)
  • News: A Consumer's Guide (1972) - a media textbook coauthored by Carol Doig
  • This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind (1979) - memoirs based on the author's life with his father and grandmother (nominated for National Book Award)
  • Heart Earth (1993) - memoirs based on his mother's letters to her brother Wally
  • Winter Brothers: A Season at the Edge of America (1980) - an essayistic dialog with James G. Swan
As editor
  • Streets We Have Come Down: Literature of the City (1975)
  • Utopian America: Dreams and Realities (1976)

This list doesn't include a research document available online at   One of his strengths was always research.  He tried to write about the PNW in "The Sea Runners" (1982) and "Winter Brothers" (1980) but they didn't sell as well as the very popular stories placed on the east slope of the Rockies.   "Prairie Nocturne" 2003 was about racism (a black man who sang opera -- not an Indian) and did not charm the locals.

"This House of Sky" is considered one of the ten best memoirs of the West.  It is the most passionate and maybe the most dark of his books.  Once he got started on a popular series, he followed his characters through several plots.  As a professional writer, he did an excellent job though a little too poetic for some people, and was able to make a living as a writer though his wife also taught journalism.  They were a tight team, gentle and thoughtful, but not particularly gregarious.  Funny and lovable, but not back-slappers and not part of the cliques.   Nevertheless, "This House of Sky" is the book that defines so-called Montana literature more than any other book.  They should all be so good and true.
Doig's parents, 1934

No comments:

Post a Comment