Ivan Doig

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Ivan Doig, 1939-2015


Ivan Doig (c) Carol Doig


Ivan Doig, the award-winning author of sixteen books, died at his Seattle home in the early morning hours of Thursday, April 9, 2015, of multiple myeloma. During the eight years of his illness, he wrote his four final novels, including Last Bus to Wisdom, which will be published on August 18, 2015. He was seventy-five.


Born in 1939, Doig grew up along the Rocky Mountain front. A former ranch hand, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University and later went on to earn a Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington. For a few years he pursued a career in journalism, but it was book writing that drew him. Doig believed that ordinary people deserve to have their stories told, and he did that in fact and fiction, beginning with This House of Sky, a memoir of his own upbringing in Montana; it attracted a wide readership and was a finalist for the National Book Award. He later wrote a second memoir, Heart Earth, and another book of nonfiction, but it is for his novels that he became enduringly read. An early novel, The Sea Runners, told the story of four indentured servants escaping Russian Alaska in the mid-nineteenth century. With English Creek, in 1984, Doig introduced the Two Medicine Country, an imagined region based upon the Montana landscape where he came of age. That novel also introduced the McCaskill clan, who reappeared in the two that followed, Dancing at the Rascal Fair and Ride with Me, Mariah Montana, the trilogy spanning a century of Montana history. The world he’d created endured-- the Two Medicine Country is the setting for the majority of his novels – as did the habit of plucking characters from previous novels and reintroducing them sometimes several books – and in fictional terms, several decades – down the road. The 2006 novel The Whistling Season, a New York Times bestseller, about a mail-order housekeeper who comes west to work for a widower and his motherless sons, debuted a favorite character, Morrie Morgan, an itinerant charmer who subsequently appeared in two further novels, Work Song (2010) and Sweet Thunder (2013), his misadventures drawing Doig’s settings south to Butte, Montana, and the conflicts between the behemoth Anaconda Copper Mining Company and the beleaguered miners in the early part of the twentieth century. Two late novels, The Bartender’s Tale (2012) and the yet-to-be-published Last Bus to Wisdom, come as close to autobiography as Doig ever got in his fiction, in that they were inspired by circumstances out of his childhood: his father’s habit of taking Doig along as a boy to the saloons where he liked to hire on haying crews in the first case, and in the second, an episode where Doig, who lost his mother at the age of six and was raised by his father and his ranch cook grandmother, was sent east to Wisconsin for a summer when both adults encountered medical difficulties. But Doig was adamant about the line between fact and fiction, and took pride in the strength of his imagination. “That’s why they call it fiction,” he liked to say. “You make it up.”    


“Ivan Doig has been, from This House of Sky, his first grand entry into literature, one of the great American voices, full of grace, abounding in humanity, easeful in narration, hypnotic in pace, grand in range,” said Thomas Keneally . Doig’s work earned him comparisons to Wallace Stegner, from whom he inherited the informal title “dean of Western Writers.” Indeed, the Center for the American West awarded Doig the prestigious Wallace Stegner Award in 2007, and he was the recipient of the Western Literature Association’s lifetime Distinguished Achievement award. He is the recipient of more awards from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association than any other writer, among numerous other honors.   “Ivan was one of the greats,” says Riverhead publisher Geoff Kloske. “We have lost a friend, a beloved author, a national treasure.”


Doig is survived by his wife, Carol, his partner in crime in researching and editing his books and a longtime professor of journalism.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Riverhead Book's Washington Post Best Books of 2012!

Congrats to Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone, Hanna Rosin's The End of Men, Ivan Doig's The Bartender's Tale and Wenguang Huang's The Little Red Guard! All of them are on the Washington Post's Best Books of 2012 list! See the full list here.
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Friday, July 23, 2010

The New York Times asks Ivan Doig about the future of the Western

Ivan Doig, author of Work Song, tells The New York Times Paper Cuts blog what he thinks is the future of the Western and gives us a sneak peek at the plot of the novel he’s currently working on. Work Song, Doig’s tenth book, is now out from Riverhead. More…

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Seattle Times talks to Ivan Doig, author of Work Song

Following a glowing review of Ivan Doig’s newest book Work Song, The Seattle Times does a Q&A with the acclaimed author of ten novels about the American West. Doig discusses his research process, the real-life versions of his characters, and his writing career, which now spans thirty years. More…

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Friday, July 16, 2010

The LA Times recommends Ivan Doig's Work Song

The LA Times writes that Doig's new novel Work Song is "as enjoyable and subtly thought-provoking a piece of fiction as you're likely to pick up this summer. It's a book that can be appreciated just for the quality of the prose and the author's adherence to the sturdy conventions of old-fashioned narrative or for Doig's sly gloss on Western genre fiction and unforced evocation of our current condition — or, better yet, for all those things." More...
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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The New York Times writes that “music is…alive” in Work Song

In his new novel Work Song, Ivan Doig finds music in the copper mining communities of Butte, Montana, where protagonist Morrie Morris confronts a town divided by labor union conflict in the post-war turmoil of 1919. The New York Times says of Work Song, "Not one stitch unravels in this intricately threaded narrative.” More…

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Chicago Tribune calls Work Song an “emblem of the American spirit”

Ivan Doig returns to the American West and its unique cast of drifters, poets, cowboys, and librarians in his new novel Work Song, narrated by Morrie Morris, the beloved protagonist of Doig’s The Whistling Season. The Chicago Tribune writes that Work Song jitterbugs with a little something we've chosen to call the American spirit…the present leaps from Doig's lively pages.” More…

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Friday, July 02, 2010

Ivan Doig’s new novel Work Song reviewed in The Seattle Times

The Seattle Times writes, "Work Song quickly becomes a historical epic with a reach of characters worthy of Dostoevsky…Doig has delivered another compelling tale about America, epic as an Old West saga but as fresh and contemporary as the news.” More…

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The San Francisco Chronicle on Ivan Doig’s “poignant” Work Song

In his new novel Work Song, Ivan Doig brings back Morrie Morris, the hero of Doig’s acclaimed The Whistling Season, for a story of love and intrigue in the copper mining communities of Butte, Montana. The San Francisco Chronicle calls Work Song, out today from Riverhead, “richly imagined and beautifully paced.” More…

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