Crooked Hearts, 1987
The Geography of Desire, 1989
Mystery Ride, 1993
Virtual Death, 1995 (as Shale Aaron)
American Owned Love, 1997
Century’s Son, 2002
Dancing in the Movies, 1986
Living to Be a Hundred, 1994
Tongues, pr. 1999
A product of Missouri, Kentucky, and the American West, Robert Boswell is a figure whose works place him among those top-rate fiction writers who rarely make national best-seller lists or receive sustained attention from the critics. Nevertheless, since the 1980’s, he has published provoking works that cannot be ignored by serious readers of American literature.
Boswell was born on December 8, 1953, in Sikeston, Missouri, to middle-class parents, Albert Russell Boswell, a teacher, and Annelle Boswell, a real estate agent. Robert Boswell was to spend most of his early childhood in Wickliffe, Kentucky, a rural town in the extreme western part of the state near the Mississippi River. When he was twelve years old, his family moved to Yuma, Arizona; Boswell has continued to live in Arizona and New Mexico almost continuously since then. One of those would-be flower children who was just a little late for the 1960’s, Boswell was greatly concerned with the draft and the Vietnam War. He became seriously involved with drugs while a student at the University of Arizona, where he earned his undergraduate degree and a subsequent degree in counseling. After working a few years in California as a counselor, he returned to Arizona and completed his education in 1984 by earning an M.F.A. in writing. In that same year he married Antonya Nelson, also a writer, and they had two children, Jade and Noah.
His writing career got something of a break in the early 1980’s when he met Larry McMurtry at the University of Arizona campus. Encouraged by McMurtry, Boswell continued efforts to publish and succeeded with a short story titled “The Real Thing” in The Antioch Review (1983). To follow were stories in popular magazines such as The New Yorker and Esquire, as well as others in scholarly journals such as the Georgia Review.
In the late 1980’s, Boswell received several awards and fellowships, beginning in 1985 with the Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction for his first short-story collection, Dancing in the Movies. In 1986 he received a fellowship from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, to be followed by more prestigious ones from the National Endowment for the Arts (1987) and a third from the Guggenheim Foundation in 1989.
His main contributions, however, were to be novels rather than short stories. Crooked Hearts, published by Knopf in 1987, gives a pseudo-history of a dysfunctional Arizona family; The Geography of Desire, a novel about a self-absorbed, eclectic Californian in Central America, appeared two years later after Boswell spent a short period teaching writing at Northwestern University.
In 1989, Boswell accepted a job teaching creative writing at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. After returning to the Southwest, he published Mystery Ride, which draws upon his personal experiences–and frustrations–as a counselor, as well as his own family life, to delineate troubled aspects of life in the United States in the late twentieth century. The work briefly made best-seller lists. A second collection of short stories titled Living to Be a Hundred was well received by reviewers in 1994. Under the pseudonym Shale Aaron, Boswell published a dark science fiction novel the following year but has since abandoned attempts in that genre even though it almost received the well-respected Philip K. Dick Award and was highly praised by the San Francisco Chronicle. Century’s Son, published in 2002, is an academic novel about the obtuse and ill-conceived activities in the family life of a college professor in a small midwestern town.
Consistently, Boswell’s fiction encompasses the same themes revisited from different geographies and cultures. Drugs, race, mutilation, war, and family life are typical elements that are treated from sundry aspects. He has achieved modest national critical acclaim as a serious writer of fiction.