One Writer’s Life
I believe what a writer should be doing [is] offering hope in the face of their own cynicism and in the face of irony. ---Brady Udall
In 1982, Governor John Evans appointed a five-member panel of Idahoans, joined by western poets such as William Stafford, to select a new poet laureate—then a lifetime appointment. Instead, the panel recommended the selection of a writer-in-residence; that the position be open to writers of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction; that the writer be required to give public readings during his or her two-year term; and that the writer be paid. In 1983, their recommendations were adopted by an executive order establishing the position.
Selection of the writer is made from Idaho applicants whose anonymous writing samples are judged by a panel of three out-of-state writers. Submissions are judged 60% for artistic excellence, 20% for contributions to the field, and 20% for oral presentation. The panel makes a recommendation to the Commission; the Governor customarily approves it.
Brady Udall, the panels’ unanimous choice to succeed Tony Doerr in 2010, grew up in a devout Mormon family of nine children in St. John, Arizona, performing ample routine chores on his grandfather’s farm, the son of teacher-parents. His great uncles include former U. S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall and former Congressman Morris Udall. A graduate of Brigham Young University, Brady later attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, taught at Franklin & Marshall College, then at University of Southern Illinois, and currently teaches writing at Boise State University. He served as a missionary in Brazil and Korea, and now lives with his wife and four children in a two-story, wooden house in Boise’s North-end.
A collection of his short stories, Letting Loose the Hounds, was published in 1998, and his novel, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, debuted in 2001 and has been translated into 18 languages and optioned for a film adaptation by United Artists. Udall’s stories and essays have been featured on National Public Radio’s This American Life. His second novel, The Lonely Polygamist (about an overgrown American family, frequently funny) was published in 2010 by W. W. Norton & Co. His work has also appeared in The Paris Review, Playboy, GQ, and Esquire.
In an interview with writer Christian Winn, Udall reflected, “I’ve thought of myself as a writer from early on, which was weird really because I grew up in a very small Mormon town…and being a writer just wasn’t something to aspire to. It just didn’t make any sense to the people around me.
“But I had wonderful teachers, and my mother was a very literate person who encouraged me to read good books when I was quite young. I remember she gave me Kafka’s The Metamorphosis when I was in fifth or sixth grade, which was maybe a little unusual, but fantastic for me, and a step toward this writing life at a young age.”
“And really, along the way there were so many steps. One I remember particularly fondly was at the county fair, right there with the pie contest and the produce contest and the judging of livestock, they had a poetry contest. And the grand prize was 25 bucks, which was a ton for a kid like me, so I decided to go for it. I still remember it pretty vividly, I think I kind of cribbed a Walt Whitman poem and came up with something about all the trees out on the hillside dying. I put it together in a couple of hours, and it won. I got the cash and a big ribbon and thought this is easy, man, I can make a killing at this. I was in seventh grade and having a little success at it, it really meant something to me, it pushed me along just that much farther.”
Fellow faculty member and fiction writer Mitch Wieland says of Udall’s presence, “We feel really lucky to have him here at BSU. He’s someone who could work anywhere, in any program in the country, and we’re just happy he wants to live in this part, that he wants to be here in Boise.”
Udall himself says, “We’ve moved around a lot, looking for that perfect place, and in Boise we’ve found it. There’s a nice literary community here, with organizations like The Cabin [literary center], and a lot of good writers. This might be a weird thing to say,” he adds, “but I like the quality of the light here. There’s something about a sweet autumn afternoon in Boise that makes it better than anyplace else.” And to boot, no winter lasts forever, no spring foregoes its turn.
WHEREAS, it is an honored tradition of governments to recognize, encourage, and foster their own artists, poets, and writers: and
WHEREAS, it is culturally and educationally advantageous for the state of Idaho to encourage programs that bring literature by Idaho writers and discussions of that literature to the Idaho public; and
WHEREAS, the encouragement and retention of Idaho writers is desirable throughout the state; and
WHEREAS, an Idaho Writer-in-Residence can enhance the image of our state by representing Idaho’s writers; and
WHEREAS, the Idaho Commission on the Arts advances the arts in an objective and professional manner complimentary to the state of Idaho; and
WHEREAS, the Idaho Commission on the Arts selected and endorsed the unanimous decision of a distinguished panel of judges, including Brian Doyle, Molly Gloss, and Michele Glazer, who through a competitive process based on work submitted anonymously, recommended Brady Udall be appointed to serve as Idaho’s Writer-in-Residence.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, C. L. Butch Otter, Governor of the State of Idaho, do hereby proclaim that
will serve as Idaho’s Writer-in-Residence for a three-year term beginning July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2013. On behalf of all Idahoans, I extend sincere congratulations and best wishes to Brady Udall on the achievement of this honor, Further, the Idaho Commission on the Arts will oversee and facilitate the administration of the program, working with Brady Udall and Idaho communities to schedule twelve readings over the next three years,
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my
hand and caused to be affixed the Great Seal of the
State of Idaho at the Capitol in Boise on this
day of June in the year of our Lord two
thousand and ten and of the Independence of the
United States of America the two hundred thirty-fourth
and of the Statehood of Idaho the one hundred
C. L. BUTCH OTTER