Jess Walter in 2009
|Born||(1965-07-20) July 20, 1965 (age 52)|
Spokane, Washington, United States
Jess Walter (born July 20, 1965) is an American author of six novels, a collection of short stories, and a non-fiction book. His books have been published in twenty-six countries and translated into twenty-eight languages. He is the recipient of the Edgar Allan Poe Award, among others, and was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2006.
Walter has published six novels, Over Tumbled Graves, Land of the Blind, Citizen Vince, The Zero, The Financial Lives of the Poets, and Beautiful Ruins. In 2013 he published his first collection of short stories, We Live in Water. His essays and short stories have also appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, McSweeny's, Esquire, Harper's, Byliner, Playboy, ESPN the Magazine, Details, and many others.
Walter's latest novel, Beautiful Ruins, was a number one New York Times best seller. It was also named Esquire's Book of the Year, NPR Fresh Air's Best Novel of 2012, a New York Times Notable Book, and a Washington Post Notable Book. Maureen Corrigan of NPR's Fresh Air called this novel a "literary miracle"  and Steve Almond of The Boston Globe described it as "a novel with pathos, piercing wit, and, most important, the generous soul of a literary classic.
Walter's 2009 novel The Financial Lives of the Poets was named one of the best books of the year by Time, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Believer, NPR's Fresh Air, and several others. Walter also writes screenplays, and has written the screenplay for a possible film adaptation of The Financial Lives of the Poets.
His 2006 novel The Zero was a finalist for the National Book Award. In a 2006 Washington Post book review, John McNally writes that with The Zero Walter has "written a new thriller not only with a conscience but also full of dead-on insights into our culture ... and the often surreal post-9/11 world." 
Citizen Vince, Walter's 2005 novel, earned him the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel in 2006.
Walter is also a career journalist, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe. As a reporter he covered the Randy Weaver/Ruby Ridge case for the Spokane Spokesman-Review newspaper and authored a book about the case, Every Knee Shall Bow (revised edition titled Ruby Ridge). He also was the co-author with Christopher Darden of the 1996 bestseller In Contempt.
Walter lives in his childhood home town of Spokane, Washington. Walter lives with his wife, Anne, and their children, Brooklyn, Ava and Alec. He is an alumnus of East Valley High School (Spokane, Washington) and Eastern Washington University.
Short stories and Short Story Collections
- "Bleacher Couch Man" (2011) [included in ESPN The Magazine's Fiction Issue]
- "Big Man" (2012)
- "Wolf and the Wild" (2012)
- "Thief" (2012)
- "Love Song#79" (2012)
- Don't Eat Cat (2012)
- We Live in Water: Stories (2013)
The Four Dances Natural Area, a great gift to all of us from Vince and Louise Larsen, affords spectacular views of the Yellowstone River from the Rims across the river from Coulson Park. (And don’t miss the heron in this photo.)
Two things surprised me about Vince Larsen’s obituary, which appeared in the Gazette on Tuesday.
The first surprise was his age. I don’t know that I ever thought how old he was, but 87? Vince had the energy and the intellectual curiosity of someone half that age, and he had a way of transmitting his enthusiasm for life to everyone around him.
The second surprise was that the obituary made no mention of the Four Dances Natural Area, the spectacular 765-acre property atop the Rims across the river from Coulson Park that Vince and his wife, Louise, put under a conservation easement and then sold to the Bureau of Land Management almost 20 years ago, at about half its appraised value.
It is there for all of us, in perpetuity, a unique slice of Montana and probably Vince’s most important legacy for people in this part of the world.
That’s how I met Vince, writing about Four Dances in 1998, when the transfer to the BLM was almost complete, and I crossed paths with him many times over the years. He always had something interesting to say, usually about current events, but the subject hardly mattered.
What mattered was that Vince was unfailingly passionate about whatever was on his mind. And he never failed to ask me about my youngest daughter, Pari. Years ago, as he had with so many young people, he had taken Pari under his wing. I asked her for her thoughts today and she wrote:
“Vince made me think about the world in ways I never had before. He and Louise were introduced to me through my friend Kiah Abbey. We were both so lucky as young women to have two passionate, intelligent and kind older people in our lives who genuinely believed in our potential as strong female forces for good in the world.
“Vince knew so much about the world and both its joys and its injustices, and he aimed to make them right.”
At his funeral service Wednesday morning, at First Presbyterian Church in Billings, the Rev. Dave Thompson read some of the responses he got when he asked family members and friends of Vince what one word they would use to describe him.
Those responses included: generous, caring, quiet, humble, kind, faithful, steady, wise, loyal and remarkable. Sounds like Vince to me.
Thompson mentioned something else that was perfectly Vince-like. One of the songs Vince chose for his funeral—which he’d planned out in some detail starting three months ago, knowing that his cancer was getting worse—was “Amazing Grace.”
That’s hardly an unusual choice for a funeral service, but Thompson said Vince liked it as much for its back story as it music and lyrics. The composer, John Newton, was an Englishman who captained slave ships before undergoing a conversion experience, after which he became an Anglican minister and a prominent supporter of the abolition of slavery.Thompson also mentioned Vince and Louise’s steadfast support of Habitat for Humanity, the financial aid they gave to restaurant workers they befriended, all the college students they helped put through school.
Vince’s friend Earl Guss said that as far as he knew, Vince and Louise helped support at least one student a year at 10 or 12 different colleges. But the number could have been higher.
“I never knew how big that was,” Guss said. “He just never said much of anything about it. He did everything so quietly.”
Jim Duncan said Vince was also a quiet, steady supporter of Yes for Kids, which Duncan co-chaired and which was formed to round up financial support for School District 2.
Suddenly it made more sense that Vince’s obituary didn’t mention Four Dances—because it didn’t mention any of his philanthropic activities. It was something he probably insisted on. His humility was as genuine as it was thoroughgoing.
Jim Gransbery, a former Gazette reporter who knew Vince well, might have put it best when he said that Vince “devoted his whole life to being a good citizen.”
That’s just right, with its emphasis not only on being good, but being good in a way that made the world better, that improved society. Vince consistently acted in a way that made others want to be good citizens.
He had some strong opinions. Thompson said that when he became the minister at First Presbyterian, the first question Vince asked him was his take on the Palestinian-Israeli situation. Vince believed that this country’s virtually unconditional support of Israel was tragically harmful to the Mideast and eroded our own democratic values.
My own beliefs, such as they were, didn’t go that far, but I didn’t feel prepared to take on his passion and his deeply informed arguments. His obituary, probably wisely, didn’t mention Israel, either.
Significantly, what it did mention, and in great detail, was how growing up on the campus of an all-black college in Mississippi, where his father was the first full-time professor, was an experience that shaped the rest of his life, that made him eager to engage people of different nationalities, races and religions.
That was more important, in Vince’s mind, than talking about the good deeds he had done and the worthwhile causes he supported.
And he couldn’t resist using the platform of his obituary to leave people with one last, beautiful piece of advice.
“Walk outside in the dark of the night and look up at the sky,” he wrote. “Note the countless stars and realize how fortunate you really are to be alive in such a vast universe. Do something about the world that we live in. Give thanks and appreciate the gift of life that has been given to you. Do something for others every day and show your gratitude. Work for peace, it is so simple, just be kind and respectful of others.”
Thompson read that paragraph during the service on Wednesday and said, “There’s your homework, right from Vince.”
Vince was an eager student of the world for all of his long life, and a great teacher until the very end.
About Ed KemmickMore by this author
Ed Kemmick has been a newspaper reporter, editor and columnist since 1980. Except for four years in his home state of Minnesota, he has spent his entire journalism career in Montana, working in Missoula, Anaconda, Butte and Billings. "The Big Sky, By and By," a collection of some of his newspaper stories and columns, plus a few essays and one short story, was published in 2011.