A Brief Autobiography

I grew up in Sierra City, California, a town of 200 in the canyon of the North Yuba River, roughly in the middle of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Sierra City’s on the western slope; its elevation is about 4,000 feet.  A sheer rock peak known as the Sierra Buttes towers over the town, rising to nearly 8,000 feet.   My father was a carpenter, stone mason, and gold miner, my mother a part-time school teacher.  I have two older brothers, Sven and Ike.

My mother's parents came to California from the Midwest and South.  Before World War I, my grandfather Isaak Åström, a Swedish immigrant, had settled in the Sierra Nevada and worked in several gold mines, including the Sixteen-to-One Mine in Allegheny and the North Star Mine in Grass Valley.  My father worked in the North Star Mine as well. Much later, in 1963, he discovered an eight-ounce (troy weight) nugget while placer-mining in the canyon of the North Yuba.

Conferring with wildlife, cutting wood to heat the home, fishing for trout, negotiating snow: these  were among the  routine aspects of our lives.  I have good memories of hiking and camping in the mountains, fly-fishing in the North Yuba and small creeks, and reading novels by candlelight when winter storms knocked out electrical service.  Bears, deer, raccoons, and rattlesnakes were often in our  neighborhood, or we were in theirs.  My father kept several hounds and unsuccessfully attempted to domesticate two bobcats (Felis rufus, a species of lynx), which he graciously released back into the forest.  Local lore has it that our family was among the first to receive a telephone in Sierra City (before I was born) and the first to purchase an automatic washing-machine.  A great-uncle of mine, Charles Smith, was an itinerant blacksmith in the West before settling in Sierra City.

Through eighth grade I went to school in the town of Downieville,  twelve miles away. I had seven classmates in the eighth garde.  Then went I to high school in Roseville, near Sacramento, and my graduating class had more students (about 325) than Sierra City had residents.  In high school I played football, baseball, and basketball; contributed to the school magazine; wore my hair extremely short; listened to records by Aretha Franklin, the Doors, and the Supremes; sported footwear known as "desert boots."   My reading from those days included Beowulf and Shakespeare, Richard Brautigan and Poe, Conan Doyle and John D. McDonald, James Baldwin and Emily Dickinson, William Golding, Shirley Jackson, and Ray Bradbury.  I was enthralled by Franco Zeffirelli's  film version of Romeo and Juliet, starring Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, but I also remember liking such low-budget films as Two-Lane Blacktop and Vanishing Point.  Other films that had an impact on me back then include Dr. Zhivago, Midnight Cowboy, and Superfly.

My military-draft number was extremely low (007), but the draft was suspended in 1973, so I was never called up.  For two years I attended Sierra Community College and worked as a sports stringer for several weekly and daily newspapers. Then I transferred to the University of California, Davis, where I earned a B.A., an M.A., and finally a PH.D. in English. As an undergraduate I emphasized creative writing and took classes from poet Karl Shapiro. In graduate school I kept writing poems and stories but focused my studies on British literature and modern British and American poetry. In 1982 I completed a dissertation on "British Romantic Verse Satire," directed by Professor John O. Hayden.  In the summers I worked at my uncle's gravel-making plant and as a carpenter and stone mason with my father. I began teaching composition at Davis in 1979. I first published a poem in a national magazine in 1977.

From 1980 to 1981 I taught American studies and English language courses at Gutenberg University in Mainz, (then West) Germany, in the Rhineland . I traveled  in Europe during and after that year in Germany, returning to U.C. Davis to oversee the Writing Center. I also worked part-time as an editor for the California Legislature.

Jacquelyn Bacon married me in 1983, the same year I was appointed Assistant Professor of English at the University of Puget Sound. Our son, Spencer, was born in 1988. Jackie operates her own consulting firm, which focuses on helping non-profit organizations raise money, manage their boards of directors, and plan strategically.  Spencer graduated from Bellarmine High School in Tacoma, and he goes to college now.

From 1990-1993, in addition to teaching at Puget Sound, I wrote a twice-monthly column for the Morning News Tribune in Tacoma. The column featured interview with writers and reviews of books. I published my first novel, Three to Get Ready, in 1991.

In 1994 I was appointed Fulbright Senior Lecturer at Uppsala University in Sweden, where I taught undergraduate and graduate courses in American literature and gave lectures. My family and I were able to travel in Sweden, Denmark, France, and Spain during that year. I was also able to visit St. Petersburg, Russia.

I continue to write and publish poetry and fiction, and I'm finishing a couple new novels. I recently published The Coast Starlight: Collected Poems 1976-2006. I'm very proud to have co-written Metro: Journeys in Writing Creatively with Kate Haake and the late Wendy Bishop.

 My "scholarly" interests include composition studies, creative-writing pedagogy, rhetoric, and African American literature—including two books on Langston Hughes. I teach composition, creative writing, and literature, developing a course in Asian American literature some years ago and teaching a course on detective fiction recently.  ( My main page has links to syllabi and my CV  lists publications.)

After living in and working on "Victorian" homes in Tacoma, my family and I  moved to Lakewood, south of Tacoma.  Raccoons visited our koi pond, birds enjoyed the raspberry patch as much as we, and the greenhouse wasof vintage design.  We tended rose  and vegetable gardens and were dutiful feeders of birds and squirrels. Around the same time, we visited Alaska for the first time and did some catch-and-release fishing on the Kenai River.  We also traveled to Ixtapa and Zihuatenejo in the Guerrero Province of Mexico. We recently moved back to the North End of Tacoma. We're members of St. Leo Parish in Central Tacoma. Peace be with you.