Writing for Her Life


Writing for Her Life

The Novelist Mildred Walker

Ripley Hugo

296 pages


May 2003


$35.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

“You are either a Mildred Walker enthusiast,” as the Philadelphia Inquirer once declared, “or you are missing one of the best writers on the American scene.” As Mildred Walker’s daughter, Ripley Hugo was in the latter category. This biography of the author of thirteen celebrated novels is also Hugo’s search for the writing life of a mother known to her children as a socially correct middle-class doctor’s wife rather than as the ambitious, imaginative, often struggling novelist she was as well.
Drawing on family memories, letters, diaries, reviews, and, in particular, the notebooks that Mildred Walker (1905–1998) kept for each novel, Hugo fashions an absorbing account of how her mother’s characters emerged in the landscapes that she visited again and again: Vermont, the Midwest, and, most frequently, Montana, the setting for the classic Winter Wheat. Alongside this developing picture of a writer at work—shaping her contribution to western America’s literary history over half a century—Hugo shows us the proper mother and social creature as carefully and consciously crafted; between the two lovingly detailed portrayals, we glimpse the depths of a life thus divided.

Author Bio

Ripley Hugo is a poet and a faculty affiliate in the English Department at the University of Montana. She is the coeditor of Richard Hugo’s essays, The Real West Marginal Way: A Poet’s Autobiography.


“Readers who come to Writing for Her Life to learn about Mildred Walker, the novelist, will find wonderful background information about the people and places that inspired her novels, thanks to Ripley Hugo’s painstaking perusal of her mother’s journals and her sharing of family stories that inform the action of some of Walker’s best-known works.”—Sue Hart, Montana, The Magazine of Western History

"A treasure for anyone seeking a foundation for further study of Walker's novels or an understanding of how, in the mid-twentieth century, she was able to find a balance and a voice."—Mary Clearman Blew, Oregon Historical Quarterly

"When Hugo was asked to write this biography, she had no family advantage. In fact, it's hard to avoid the suspicion that what she had, and kept having throughout the biographical process, was a lot of family pain. This book is a real tribute to Hugo's honesty, especially in the last painful years when [Mildred] Walker could no loner write and just wasted away, a fate we all fear but few are willing to talk about."—Susan Armitage, Western American Literature

"The book is well constructed, rich in landscape detail and clear accounts of the real people who became characters in the novels. As a study of a daughter's exploration of her relationship to her mother, what made her mother write and what she wrote, the biography is insightful. Moreover, the scholarship is useful and valuable to the student of American fiction and non-fiction of the West, and it records the account of a noteworthy woman previously hidden from history."—Judith McGuinness Torvik, American Studies in Scandinavia

“With friends and even with family, Mildred Schemm was a bit of a snob. . . . Behind closed doors though, Schemm was something else entirely: The respected novelist Mildred Walker who, with a just a few keystrokes, could capture the piercing loneliness and enduring strength of the very men and women she went out of her way to ignore. Walker’s daughter, Ripley Hugo, digs deep to explore her mother’s contradictory personality.”—Carol Bradley, Great Falls Tribune


2003 Handcart Award, sponsored by the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies at Utah State University, winner

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