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Walter Van Tilburg Clark was born on August 3, 1909, in East Orland, Maine, the oldest of four Clark children. His brilliant father, Walter Ernest Clark, was a teacher, an economist, and the president of the University of Nevada in Reno. His mother, Euphemia Murray (Abrams) Clark, was also intelligent and interested in books, learning, and art. Both mother and father had a great influence on their son.
Walter's parents moved from New York to Nevada when he was only eight years old. Most of his education took place in Nevada, where he attended public schools and completed his B.A. at the University of Nevada in 1932. He also earned his first Master's degree there within the year, after writing a thesis on the Tristram legend. He then earned a second master's degree in 1934 from the University of Vermont with a thesis on the poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Besides being very well educated Clark had many interests, including sports, art, music, theater, chess, history (particularly western history), Indian lore, geology, mining, and ranching. Many of these interests are explored in his writing. Walter Clark married Barbara Frances Morse in 1933, and they had two children, Barbara Anne and Robert Morse.
Most of Clark's career was spent in education. He was a teacher of English, drama, and sports in Cazenonia Central School in New York from 1936 to 1945. He was an assistant professor of English at the University of Montana from 1953 to 1956. He served as a professor of English and the director of creative writing at San Francisco State College, California, from 1956-62. Then from 1962-1971, he was the writer in Residence at the University of Nevada, Reno. He was also a visiting lecturer at various other universities.
Besides his novels, Clark also wrote short stories. He published The Watchful Gods, a short story collection, in 1950. He also was regularly published in various periodicals and served as the editor of the journals of Alfred Doten. His poems, "Christmas Comes to Hjalsen," "Reno," and "Ten women in Gale's House" were published in 1930 and 1932. Clark's works have been translated into twenty languages. He also won the O Henry Memorial Award in 1945 for the story The Wind and the Snow of Winter. Clark died of cancer on November 11, 1971.