Authors: Rick Bass

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American essayist

Author Works

Nonfiction:

The Deer Pasture, 1985

Wild to the Heart, 1987

Oil Notes, 1989

Winter: Notes from Montana, 1991

The Ninemile Wolves: An Essay, 1992

The Lost Grizzlies: A Search for Survivors in the Wilderness of Colorado, 1995

The Book of Yaak, 1996

The New Wolves, 1998

Brown Dog of the Yaak: Essays on Art and Activism, 1999

Colter: The True Story of the Best Dog I Ever Had, 2000

Long Fiction:

Fiber, 1998 (novella)

Where the Sea Used to Be, 1998

Short Fiction:

The Watch, 1989

Platte River, 1994

In the Loyal Mountains, 1995

The Sky, the Stars, the Wilderness, 1997

The Hermit’s Story, 2002

Edited Text:

The Roadless Yaak: Reflections and Observations About One of Our Last Great Wilderness Areas, 2002

Biography

Rick Bass, a native southerner, made his home in the Yaak Valley region of northern Montana with his wife and two children. He was one of three children born to C. R. Bass, a geologist, and Lucy Bass, an English teacher. Educated at Utah State University, he received a B.S. in petroleum geology in 1979. He worked for several years in Mississippi as a petroleum geologist before developing his career as a writer. Though his southern roots gave him a strong foundation as a storyteller, it was by coming to the American West that Bass seems to have found his strongest voice, his reason for being a writer.{$I[A]Bass, Rick}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Bass, Rick}{$I[tim]1958;Bass, Rick}

Bass’s first book, The Deer Pasture, is a collection of essays which tells the story of a time-honored family tradition, deer hunting in the Texas Hill country. The themes are ones that will stay central to much of Bass’s later work: the importance of family, the real (nonmonetary) value of land, and the role that nature can play in enriching human life. It concerns a question vital to his heart: how one can keep alive a sense of home in a world where, everywhere, the sense of home is being threatened or destroyed, both spiritually and physically. The essays are told in a loose, personal, almost folksy style. They brim with colorful local characters and vivid storytelling and describe the essential bonds that humans should share with the land, nature, and one another. The clear prose is etched with details about nature and the sport of hunting.

The Deer Pasture was followed by two other books of essays: Wild to the Heart and Oil Notes. Bass’s first book of fiction, The Watch, won the PEN/Nelson Algren Award. The stories chronicle the lives of people living in southern, southwestern, and western landscapes and seem to reflect Bass’s own searching movements across the country. By age thirty, he had already established himself as an interesting and important young writer.

In 1987 Bass seemed to find his true home in the world, in the Kootenai National Forest region of Montana. His nonfiction book Winter describes the move he and his wife made from Mississippi up to the lonely, rural Montana environment, where they would stay. This move was a crucial stage in his career and life.

In 1992 Bass published an essay called The Ninemile Wolves. Like in The Deer Pasture, this book uses personal anecdotes, local characters, and poetic descriptions about the land. It tells the story of a wolf reintroduction program in northern Montana. Bass seems to write the essay, in part, to make sense of his own wanderlust, of his need for traveling across the land and pushing across frontiers. The essay turns on its head the notion that humans are the ones who are trying to save the environment. Instead, it is the environment–the wolves–that is trying to save humans.

In 1998 Bass branched out from writing essays and short stories to write his first novel, Where the Sea Used to Be. He continues to publish short stories and essays, such as “Eating Montana: Last Stand of the Wilderness” (1998), in which he defends his principled stand on how wilderness should be preserved.

A defender of the wilderness, Bass’s writings show a passionate commitment to environmental issues and other causes, especially those affecting the western states. His work conveys the importance of developing and maintaining roots to family and the land–of having a sense of place in the world. In fighting for this sense of place, Bass often takes on big business, national politicians, and local government officials. He seems to champion the underdog, the proud fighter, such as in his editorial “The War of the West” (1995) or in an essay like “An Untouched Country,” published in Testimony: Writers of the West Speak on Behalf of the Utah Wilderness (1996), in which he tries to revitalize the meaning of what a true American patriot really stands for. Additionally, he argues in The Ninemile Wolves that the myth of the lone wolf is just that–a myth. Like the wolf, a most social creature, people live, work, and travel best when they are connected by a sense of community. The happiest person, as typified by his grandfather in The Deer Pasture, is someone who carries his sense of family and home with him wherever he is–and gives these values and traditions to the next generation. The theme of being able to return is important to Bass. He warns that by losing wilderness, people are losing this essential ability, perhaps forever.

Bass seems at home writing in several forms: long fiction, short stories, and especially the essay. He easily fits into the genre of nature writer and environmentalist. His work as a social activist and a writer of conscience places him in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau. Bass can be compared to other contemporary western writers such as Wallace Stegner and John McPhee and to nature writers such as Edward Abbey and Terry Tempest Williams. Bass’s background in science and interest in wolves connects him with Farley Mowat. By writing about his home, Montana, he carries on a great writing tradition, forged with many other writers of that state: Richard Ford, Thomas McGuane, William Kittredge, and James Welch.

Although dedicated to serious issues, Bass’s humor, a wistful romantic sense, and an earthy cussedness keep his work fresh and full of human connections. In 2002 he published a collection of stories, The Hermit’s Story, and edited a book of nonfiction, The Roadless Yaak. Just as he made his home in Montana, Bass made his mark as an important and interesting man of American letters.

BibliographyBass, Rick. “Rick Bass: Lessons from the Wilderness.” Interview by David Long. Publishers Weekly 242 (June 26, 1995): 82-83. Discussion of Bass’s daily writing schedule, how he began writing while working as a geologist, and his passion for the environment.Dixon, Terrell F. American Nature Writers 1. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1996. A lengthy discussion of Bass’s love of nature and the wilderness essays of Wild to the Heart. Emphasizes the importance of natural settings in his writing and includes some biographical information.Gorra, Michael. “Outside: Rick Bass’s Novellas Offer Meticulous Observations of the Natural World.” The New York Times (December 14, 1997; July 20, 1999). In this review of the three novellas in Bass’s The Sky, the Stars, the Wilderness, Gorra praises Bass for his ability to bring the wilderness alive, to pin it to the page for all to experience. He explains why he thinks the first two novellas, The Myths of Bears and Where the Sea Used to Be, are not as successful as the final novella, The Sky, the Stars, the Wilderness.Johnson, Anne Janette. “Rick Bass.” Contemporary Authors (July 20, 1999). Contains basic biographical information, a list of books by the author, a list of anthologies in which some of his works have appeared, and a list of articles in periodicals, most of which are book reviews.Rosovsky, Michael. “Interview with Rick Bass.” Mississippi Review 27, no. 3 (1999). Bass answers questions and talks about his work, personal life, and career as a writer.Weltzian, O. Alan, ed. The Literary Art and Activism of Rick Bass. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2001. Essays by Scott Slovic, Karla Ambruster, Terry Gifford, and many others explore Bass’s writings and personal connections to environmentalism as well as place Bass within the American tradition of such writers as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John McPhee.Wieland, Mitch. “Rick Bass.” In Twentieth-Century American Western Writers, edited by Rivchard H. Cracroft. Vol. 212 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1999. Essay gives an overview and description of Bass’s published works and general facts of his life. It provides critical commentary upon Bass’s writings as well as some of Bass’s remarks about his work and life.
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