John Hildebrand to receive UW-Whitewater Chancellor's Regional Literary Award

September 24, 2012

John HildebrandProfessor and author John Hildebrand is this year's recipient of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Chancellor's Regional Literary Award.

Hildebrand, a professor of English at UW-Eau Claire, will be honored for his outstanding nonfiction works, "Mapping the Farm: The Chronicles of a Family" and "Reading the River: A Voyage Down the Yukon."

"I am proud to announce John Hildebrand as this year's Regional Literary Award winner," said Chancellor Richard Telfer. "His books offer a fascinating and honest perspective of the peoples and places he's visited.  There's a deep understanding of the impact that place has on culture and people."

A public event, which will feature a reading and book signing, will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15, in Summers Auditorium in the James R. Connor University Center.

"I'm very pleased and honored to get this recognition because I teach at a state university and I've sent all my children to state universities," Hildebrand said. "It's very important to me as a teacher and parent."

In "Mapping the Farm," Hildebrand focuses on four generations of a Minnesota farm family and how they and the land adapted to change over more than a century. In "Reading the River," Hildebrand tells an adventure story and paints a picture of Alaskan people as he vividly recounts his two-month, 2,000 mile journey canoeing the Yukon River.  His most recent work, "A Northern Front: New and Selected Essays," features work that originally appeared in Harper's Magazine.

"You naturally want to write the kind of book you enjoy reading. My background is in fiction, but I found nonfiction works to be the most compelling," Hildebrand said. "They are about real people and real places. I realized I could make stories out of ordinary lives and experiences. To me, that was great."

"John's writing is so wonderful and accessible," said Tony Gulig, associate professor and chair of the UW-Whitewater History Department. "When you read his work, you always come away with a great sense of place. In a lot of my own research and writing I often think, 'How would John describe this?' "

Gulig was an undergraduate history major at UW-Eau Claire when he first met Hildebrand. In the late 1980s, they raced canoes and hunted deer and ducks together. Gulig said they gained a mutual appreciation for people and place in the modern world.

Hildebrand received a B.A. in journalism from the University of Michigan in 1971 and MFA in creative writing from the University of Alaska in 1974. In 1977 he joined the English Department at UW-Eau Claire, where he is a professor specializing in nonfiction writing and literature, the short story and American literature.

He tells his students that an author doesn't have to be an expert to write successfully.

"You don't have to know everything about a subject, you just have to be curious. That's the same position the reader is in," he said. "Sometimes it's an advantage to be a newcomer."

One of his former students, Tom Rios, is vice chancellor for student affairs at UW-Whitewater. Rios was majoring in psychology and criminal justice at UW-Eau Claire when Hildebrand taught his English composition class.

"He showed passion for the subject matter that was contagious and the excitement flowed over to me. He had a rare combination of qualities in that he was both challenging and supportive," Rios said. "I'm looking forward to seeing him again when he comes to UW-Whitewater."


Sara Kuhl

Jeff Angileri

About the award

The Chancellor's Regional Literary Award honors a living author who has demonstrated a connection to the Upper Midwest in his or her published works of prose, poetry, nonfiction or drama.

Previous winners:

2006 - C.J. Hribal for "The Company Car"

2007 - A. Manette Ansay for "Vinegar Hill," "Limbo" and "Blue Water"

2008 - Michael Perry for "Population 485" and "Truck: A Love Story"

Jane Hamilton for "A Map of the World" and "The Book of Ruth"

2009 - David Rhodes for "Driftless"

2010 - Agate Nesaule for "A Woman in Amber" and "In Love with Jerzy Kosinski"

2011 - Robert Goolrick for "A Reliable Wife"