Volume 2
An Online Literary Magazine
March 28, 2009


Editor's Note


Nick O’Connell


Nick O'Connell


n the fall of 1986, I drove east from Seattle, heading for the Big Sky Country of Montana. My yellow Volkswagen bug whined and chugged and threatened to blow a valve, but managed to crest 4,725-foot Lookout Pass. Then it plunged down the east slope, picking up speed, turning the tamarack forest into a blur of green and gold.


I was researching my first book, At the Field’s End: Interviews with 22 Pacific Northwest Writers. I’d read hundreds of titles, trying to get a feel for the scope and breadth of Pacific Northwest literature. Of all the books I read, A River Runs Through It stood out immediately. I found the story incredibly tragic, a family’s attempt to help their youngest son--a gambler, a street fighter and a genius with a fly rod—who eventually was found in an alley, beaten to death with a gun butt. The writing resembled the lapidary quality of stones, worked and reworked until it achieved a weight and resonance beyond ordinary language.


The author, Norman Maclean, had agreed to an interview at his cabin on Seeley Lake, northeast of Missoula, Montana. I wasn’t sure what to expect. A retired Professor of English at the University of Chicago, Maclean relished telling tales of bar fights, lumberjacks, smoke jumpers and famous international whores, all with a lyric quality that set them apart from many stories about the West.


When I arrived at the log cabin, he graciously invited me in. The tourists had left Seeley Lake, the fish were rising, and Norman Maclean was coming into his own amid the silence and chill dark waters. We sat down on the screened porch, the sound of lake water lapping against the shore, and talked about his book.


A short, stout man with a face creased by wrinkles, Maclean spoke with a mixture of toughness and tenderness, salting his prose with profanity and humor, celebrating the ways of the woods in the most evocative of language.


Later, I transcribed the interview and sent it back to him. He berated me for repetitions and errors in the unedited draft and then coached me diligently through its rewrite, playing the part of the generous, tough-minded professor he had become famous for at the University of Chicago.


The interview was published in At the Field’s End (1998) and now reappears here and in a new collection of his work, The Norman Maclean Reader just issued by the University of Chicago Press ( http://www.press.uchicago.edu) The collection also includes “The Incident,” published here serially for the first time. It's an important story in its own right and immensely useful in understanding the art and craft behind A River Runs Through It.


In addition to these works, the second issue of The Writer’s Workshop Review includes Larry Lustig’s harrowing story, “In the Basement,” about his daughter’s cardiac event; Irene Wanner’s “Walking on Whales' Backs,” a story concerning one of the oldest and most difficult tasks of human life, the burial of the dead; Bharti Kirchner’s “The Assignment,” one of the funniest treatments of a writing workshop you’ll ever read; and finally my travel piece, “The Michelangelo of Meat,” about the transcendent qualities of Bistecca Alla Fiorentina, an Italian steak.


I'd especially like to thank the following people for their help in putting together this issue: all writers who contributed to it; Tony Turpin for the use of his image "View from the Studio Window"; Levi Stahl of the University of Chicago Press for permission to publish “The Incident” and photo of Norman Maclean; Scott Driscoll and Irene Wanner for their careful reading and editing of incoming manuscripts; Kathleen Glassburn for her help and encouragement with the project.


This issue is dedicated to the memory of Norman Maclean, an incandescent writer and teacher who elevated the practice of Pacific Northwest Literature, grafting it on to some of the deepest and truest stories of our culture, including the obligation to be our brothers’ keepers, even if they don’t seem to want it, or don’t think they need it.


We hope you enjoy the second issue of The Writer's Workshop Review. Please let us know what you think. We look forward to hearing from you!



All best,


Nicholas O’Connell

Publisher/ Editor

The Writer’s Workshop Review










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