Anthony "Tony" Doerr
In 1982-following the death of Idaho's poet laureate, whose 33 years in the saddle made an early and persuasive case for term limits-Governor John Evans appointed five Idahoans and three western poets to select a new laureate. Instead, the panel recommended the selection of a writer-in-residence to serve a two-year term; that the position be open, as well, to writers of fiction and nonfiction; that the writer be required to give four readings annually during his or her term and be paid $5,000 a year. Governor Evans adopted their recommendations, using an executive order to establish a writer-in-residence panel.
The out-of-state panel makes its selection from Idaho applicants whose anonymous writing samples it reads and evaluates. Submissions are judged 60% for artistic excellence, 20% for contributions to the field (résumé), and 20% for oral presentation (cassette or CD). The panel makes a recommendation to the Commission, which forwards it, in turn, to the Governor for his or her approval. (In 1998, because of budget cutbacks, the Commission reduced the award to $2,666 annually and extended the term to three years.)
Former writers in residence include Kim Barnes (2004), Jim Irons (2001), Bill Johnson (1999), Lance Olsen (1996), Clay Morgan (1994), Daryl Jones (1992), Neidy Messer (1990), Eberle Umbach (1988), Robert Wrigley (1986), and Ron McFarland (1984).
The panel met in April 2007, deliberated, and made its hands down choice. On July 1, Governor C. L. Butch Otter issued a proclamation appointing Anthony "Tony" Doerr Idaho's newest Writer in Residence.
Doerr, born near Cleveland, has lived in Boise since 2000. He attended Bowdoin College in Maine-alma mater of Hawthorne and Longfellow-as a history major with an emphasis on post-1945 American history and graduated cum laude. He went on to Bowling Green State University, earning an MFA in writing, with a concentration in fiction, in 1999. He says, "If writers look at an MFA program as an opportunity to establish a functional discipline rather than training for career placement, it should serve them well."
Before and after college, he worked and traveled-to Alaska, New Zealand, Kenya, the Windward Islands; on sheep ranches and as a cook in Telluride and on the "slime line" at a fish packing plant in Ketchikan.
His wife, Shauna Eastman, an Idaho native whose father worked for Boise Cascade, also attended Bowdoin, where they met. When she returned to Boise to work for Hewlett Packard Corporation, he followed and they married. "There are two things in life for which we are never truly prepared: twins." Even so, the Doerrs are now parents of twin three-year-old boys.
Boise, he says, is his favorite of the communities in which he has lived so far. "It has to do with place, of course. Boise's proximity to wilderness, but it also has to do with what's inside a person when he or she lives somewhere-even as a place projects some of its own emotions onto us, we project ourselves onto it...here we have friends and I'm married and very happy, and all that helps me love the place all the more."
Ezra Pound, an Idahoan-by-origin, said "The book should be a ball of light in one's hand." To date, Tony has dished out three golden globes: The Shell Collector: Stories (2002); About Grace: a Novel (2004); and Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the World.
For one so young, his writing has garnered surpassing praise and honors. The Shell Collector, which has gone through five printings in cloth and three in paperback, was a New York Times "Notable Book of 2002" and an American Library Association "Outstanding Book for 2003"; Doerr received the New York Public Library "Young Lions Award" and first place in the Barnes & Noble Booksellers "Discover Prize for Fiction." (Laura Bush reported having The Shell Collector on her bedside table.) In 2002, he was awarded an NEA Fellowship in writing. He received the coveted Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, 2003-2004 and the Rome Prize, awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2004. Book-of-the-Month Club selected About Grace as one of the "Five Best Novels of 2004."
Three years ago, Doerr taught as distinguished visiting writer at Boise State University; currently, he serves two weeks in January and July as visiting faculty for the low-residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. He contributes regularly to The Morning News (online magazine) and writes a bimonthly review of science-related books for the Boston Globe. Somehow, he also labors almost daily on a work-in-progress-a novel about France during WWII, radio, the underground resistance, piano-making, aerial bombardment, and the thousand other things that Tony Doerr is heir to.