Montana author Rick Bass is among the six 2018 Governor’s Arts Award recipients honored during a public ceremony Dec. 7 at the Capitol Rotunda in Helena. The Montana Arts Council hosted the ceremony and a reception that followed for Bass and fellow honorees Monte Dolack, Jackie Parsons, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Kevin Red Star and Annick Smith.
The Governor’s Arts Award recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations whose achievements in the arts, or on behalf of the arts, benefit all Montanans. The six honorees were nominated by the public and reviewed by the Montana Arts Council’s Governor’s Arts Awards Committee before being approved by Gov. Steve Bullock.
There’s that great William Carlos Williams quote: ‘No ideas but in things.’ Montana is still a place that’s full of things. Things are good for writers. You can quote me on that.
– Rick Bass (Mountain Outlaw)
Thomas McGuane, a “long-time friend, reader and admirer” of internationally acclaimed Montana author Rick Bass, nominated him for the Governor’s Arts Award.
“I consider him an important national writer and a Montana treasure,” writes McGuane. He notes that Bass’s considerable literary outpouring “amounts to a celebration of Montana and a guardianship of her natural treasures.”
Critics, writers and readers echo that praise.
“What’s exhilarating about Rick Bass’s stories is that they show every hallmark of ‘the natural’ – that lucid, free-flowing, particularly American talent whose voice we can hear in Twain, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Probably no American writer since Hemingway has written about man-in-nature more beautifully or powerfully than Rick Bass.” (Dallas Morning News, reviewing the short-fiction collection, The Hermit’s Story)
“Bass’s language glistens with the beauty of the landscape he evokes. … His narration is pitch-perfect, and his writing so full of empathy for people and places that each story is a new revelation.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
A The New York Times review of his 2016 collection, For a Little While, calls him “hands down, a master of the short form, creating in a few pages a natural world of mythic proportions.”
Bass moved to the remote Yaak Valley in northwestern Montana more than three decades ago, when his writing career was in its infancy, and has since authored more than 30 works of fiction and non-fiction. His most recent collection of new and selected stories, For a Little While, earned the prestigious Story Prize in 2016; another collection, The Lives of Rocks, was a finalist for that prize – and named Best Book of the Year by the Rocky Mountain News.
His fiction has received O. Henry Awards and numerous Pushcart Prizes, and earned him fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Several stories have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories: The Year’s Best.
A collection of short fiction, The Hermit’s Story, was named a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year, and his nonfiction book, Why I Came West, was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2008.
He is the recipient of a 2011 Montana Arts Council Artist’s Innovation Award, and has taught writing at the University of Montana, Montana State University, and several other colleges and universities. He serves on the Yaak Valley Forest Council and Save the Yellowstone Grizzly, and is a member of the Whitefish Review Editorial Board.
The son of a geologist and an English teacher, he grew up in Houston and studied petroleum geology at Utah State University. He started writing short stories on his lunch breaks while working as a petroleum geologist in Jackson. “It’s essentially how I learned to write: by looking for oil and gas. The process is eerily similar,” he told Michael Becker in a story that appeared in MSU’s Mountains and Minds.
He also credits Jim Harrison’s Legends of the Fall with changing him from reader to writer. “When I read it, the slow sleeping atoms in my blood began, with that one awakening, to realign into crystalline forms that were unfamiliar to me,” he writes in his latest book, The Traveling Feast. “I followed them, no questions asked.”
Now 60, Bass continues to give readings, write and lecture around the world. He told Mountain Outlaw in a story published last year: “Now I think about things more like a painter thinking about the colors on the palette and the brushes. And I have a greater sinuosity to the flow of the story and sedatives – less volatile, jagged, helter-skelter bomb-throwing and pyrotechnics.”
If his writing style is more contemplative, it doesn’t dampen the verve with which he approaches his craft. Scott Slovic, a professor at the University of Idaho and a scholar in the field of ecological literary criticism, wrote that Bass “has demonstrated not only a unique literary and activist voice but virtually unprecedented energy in pursuit of his craft and his causes … This writer has a bomb in his heart – such is the incandescence within him.”
– Kristi Niemeyer