James Welch, Montana Author, Dies

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    James Welch, acclaimed Native American author of many novels, including Fools Crow (Penguin, USA) and The Indian Lawyer (Penguin, USA), died of a heart attack in his home in Montana on Wednesday, August 6. He was 62 and had been struggling with cancer.

    "He was a very caring and giving person," said Barbara Theroux of Fact and Fiction Books in Missoula, Montana. "He was somebody you felt was a true friend, in addition to being an internationally acclaimed and best selling author."

    Welch was born in Browning, Montana in 1940 and was raised primarily on the Fort Belknap Reservation, the son of a Blackfeet father and a Gros Ventre mother. He had always wanted to be a writer. Welch attended the University of Minnesota, Northern Montana University, and the University of Montana, where he received his B.A., and studied under poet Richard Hugo. In an essay about this experience, Welch wrote that Hugo, "in his infinite wisdom and generosity, said, 'Go ahead, write about the reservation, the landscape, the people.'" Welch went on to write many novels and essays about what it means to be a Native American in modern America.

    His first and only book of poetry, Riding the Earthboy 40 (Confluence Press, Revised Ed.), published in 1971, was one of the first books of poetry by an Native American writer about Native American subjects. The historical novel Fools Crow, about the Blackfeet world, won the Los Angeles Times Award for Fiction in 1986, and his novel The Heartsong of Charging Elk (Anchor Books) was a 2001 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award winner. His other published works include Winter in the Blood (Penguin, USA), The Death of Jim Loney (Penguin, USA), and Killing Custer (Penguin, USA). Welch also taught at the University of Washington and Cornell University.

    Theroux said that in Missoula, there was a "stillness within the community. We're all still taking in what we have lost. We've lost a friend. Ripley Hugo [Welch's neighbor] said it best, 'His presence was a lovely thing.'"

    Welch is survived by his wife, Lois.