Grounded in the specific land and lingo of the American West, Doig eloquently captures many of life’s most universal themes in his fiction and nonfiction: the relationship between past and present, environ-mental protection versus exploitation, and the contributions of individuals within a larger, historical context.
Born in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, in 1939, Doig grew up in the Rocky Mountain frontier that would provide the inspiration for much of his writing. Though his parents and grandparents were ranch hands, sheepherders, and homesteaders, Doig decided early on that he wanted a different life for himself, and attended Northwestern University where he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism. Eventually, he would earn a Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington.
Like Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway before him, Doig’s career as a newspaperman would hone his skills as a writer, helping him develop a critical eye for detail and a nuanced ear for dialogue. As a student of history, Doig acquired the research skills to uncover extensive background that lend his works an unmistakable air of authenticity.
Hailed as Wallace Stegner’s successor as “dean of Western American letters,” Doig focuses on the average people, Westerners who carved out an existence through sheer dint of their labors: ranchers and rangers, cowboys and cooks, sheepherders and truck drivers. These were people he knew firsthand. Starting with his memoirs, This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind (1979) and Winter Brothers: A Season At the Edge of America (1980), Doig recounted his family history and the stories of his childhood to great acclaim, becoming a finalist for the National Book Award for This House of Sky.
Just as Faulkner did with Yoknapatawpha County, so, too, has Doig captured the essence of an actual geographic region within an imagined fictional counterpart. Following the publication of his first work of fiction, the historical novel The Sea Runners (1982), Doig began writing what would be known as his “McCaskill Family” trilogy. Beginning with English Creek in 1984, Doig recreated life in a small Montana town in the fictional Two Medicine County during those interim years between the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II. The second volume, Dancing at the Rascal Fair (1987), harkened back to 1889 and Montana’s entry into statehood, while the final volume, Ride With Me, Mariah Montana (1990), takes place during Montana’s centennial year and shows how the state’s past shaped its future.
Eschewing the stereotypes and myths popularized in early Western fiction, Doig has become one of the guiding forces in the transformation of the literary West of Louis L’amour and Zane Grey, to represent the region within a broader human context, especially with the promotion of those cultural and environmental issues so prevalent in the post-frontier era.
“My books,” says Doig, “are the result of those popular pulls of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific. Whichever the setting, in both my fiction and nonfiction, I try to work two stubborn substances, research and craft, into becoming the hardest alloy of all — a good story.”
This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind (1978) 978.6612 DOI
Winter Brothers: A Season at the Edge of America (1980) *
The Sea Runners (1982)
Inside This House of Sky (with Duncan Kelso) (1983) *
English Creek (1984) – first novel in trilogy
Dancing at the Rascal Fair (1987) – second novel in trilogy
Ride with Me, Mariah Montana (1990) – final novel in trilogy LP
Heart Earth (1993) 813.54 DOI, LP
Bucking the Sun (1996)
Mountain Time (1999)
Prairie Nocturne (2003)
LP = Large Print
* = Please request at the Information Services Desk.
This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind – National Book Award, 1979; Christopher Award, 1979
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Awards For Literary Excellence
Fellowship, National Endowment for The Arts, 1985
English Creek – Western Heritage Award, Best Western Novel, 1985
Distinguished Achievement Award, Western Literature Association, 1989
Heart Earth – Evans Biography Award, 1993
Pacific Northwest Writers Association Achievement Award, 2002