Joe Wilkins

Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing up on the Big Dry (Counterpoint, 2012), and three books of poetry, Killing the Murnion Dogs (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), Notes from the Journey Westward (White Wine Press, 2012), and When We Were Birds (University of Arkansas Press, 2016). The Mountain and the Fathers, which was named a 2012 Montana Book Award Honor Book and was a 2013 Orion Book Award finalist, won the 2014 GLCA New Writers Award. A Pushcart Prize winner and National Magazine Award finalist, Wilkins has published essays, stories, and poems in a host of magazines and literary journals, including The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, Harvard Review, High Country News, TriQuarterly, Ecotone, Orion, The Sun, and Slate. Wilkins lives with his wife, son, and daughter in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, where he directs the creative writing program at Linfield College. Visit his website here.



In a small town at the foot of Montana’s Bull Mountains, where prospects are scarce and the land can be both giving and cruel, Wendell, a solitary ranch hand only a few years out of high school, inherits a nephew – second cousin, really – after the boy’s drug addled mother abandons him for days and is jailed. With the boy’s arrival Wendell finds himself on a collision course between the boy’s teacher and a disaffected fringe group intent on sending a message to the government. In a hardscrabble community where stoicism is a virtue and hands are calloused from the work, Wendell comes to love the boy more than he ever thought possible. And he’ll do anything to protect to him.

In the spirit of Cormac McCarthy, with a touch more tenderness, and the naturalist’s eye of John McPhee, And Ever These Bull Mountains offers a stunning tapestry of lives that come together in surprising and moving ways, set in a beautiful but unforgiving Montana landscape. With a poet’s eye, Wilkins masterfully crafts a story about a man protecting a boy he never asked for but would open his heart to, and the redemptive power of love.


Rights: Little, Brown (two book deal), World (all)


THE MOUNTAIN AND THE FATHERSGrowing Up in the Big Dry (2012)

The Mountain and The Fathers explores the life of boys and men in the unforgiving, harsh world north of the Bull Mountains of eastern Montana in a drought afflicted area called the Big Dry, a land that chews up old and young alike. Joe Wilkins was born into this world, raised by a young mother and elderly grandfather following the untimely death of his father. That early loss stretches out across the Big Dry, and Wilkins uses his own story and those of the young boys and men growing up around him to examine the violence, confusion, and rural poverty found in this distinctly American landscape. Ultimately, these lives put forth a new examination of myth and manhood in the American west and cast a journalistic eye on how young men seek to transcend their surroundings in the search for a better life. Rather than dwell on grief or ruin, Wilkins’ memoir posits that it is our stories that sustain us, and The Mountain and The Fathers, much like the work of Norman MacClean or Jim Harrison, heralds the arrival of an instant literary classic.

A 2012 Montana Book Award Honor Book

Finalist for the 2013 Orion Book Award

Winner of the 2014 GLCA New Writers Award in Nonfiction

“Joe Wilkins writes his truths straight from the broken heart of a broken land. When I read his personal stories, so lyrically and wondrously imagined, I feel a beautiful and sometimes terrifying emotion rise up in me—mythic, redemptive, and sustaining. If you want to read what matters, read this.”—Kim Barnes, Pulitzer Prize Finalist for In the Wilderness

“Joe Wilkins’ sketches of life in Montana’s Big Dry country, north of Billings and halfway to nowhere, are filled with a potent combination of loving poetry and bitter nostalgia. You can smell the sage and wild onions and feel how this land apart forms and twists those who live there, and sometimes kills them. Wilkins’ search for his father—and for himself—takes its own twist: the Big Dry may care nothing for pilgrims and father seekers, but it marks its own as surely as a father marks a son.”—John N. Maclean

“Joe Wilkins grew up on the enormous plains of eastern Montana. He found plenty to respect and revere and plenty to escape. And he learned the stories and how to tell them. The Mountain and the Fathersis vivid and compelling. We're reading it in Montana in order to understand ourselves. And for the pure pleasure we find in the storytelling.”—William Kittredge

"Joe Wilkins grew up hard in the middle of nowhere—the bent-back, make-do world of the driest, loneliest country in all Montana—and after reading this memoir about the West, about myth, about manhood, about grief and transcendence, I felt at once heartbroken and hopeful and ultimately awed by his ability to twist sentences like barbed wire, his voice wondrously rich with dirt-and-gravel poetry."—Benjamin Percy, author of The Wilding

“Wilkins—who writes out of the James Wright and Richard Hugo tradition—has a voice all his own. Each sentence is a hand-built and beautiful thing…The words at time feel old and weary. Sometimes they feel expansive like Montana’s plains. Sometimes they suffocate the reader under the weight of expectations. Other times they are so dry and barren that they nearly blow off the page. But they are always poetic, and they always sing in a voice that so few writers possess.” Brevity

The Mountain and the Fathers is a wonderfully rendered portrait of starkly beautiful rural life and a haunting search for what it means to be a man in the American West. Wilkins is a poet; his eye for detail is clear and he writes with the narrative grace of high lonesome prairie wind.”—Elliot Bay Books

“No one combines the personal and the natural better than Joe Wilkins. He’s a hero of mine and will be your hero, too.”—David Gessner, Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour

“Joe Wilkins’s writing in Orion and elsewhere evokes the difficult and formative weight of his home place—eastern Montana’s Big Dry. In his new memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, Wilkins gathers flashes of his early life there, and arranges them in ways that are graceful and hard and beautiful.”—Scott Gast, Orion

“Page after page and sentence after sentence, this is one of the best-written and most readable books to come across this reader’s desk, worthy of keeping company with such excellent nonfiction such as A River Runs Through ItBlue Highways, and Tom Montag’s Curlew.”—Briar Cliff Review

Rights: Counterpoint, World English