Born: May 14, 1945
Ohio connection: Birth
Merrill Gilfillan was born in 1945 in rural Ohio, along the borders of the Appalachian Mountains. Growing up in that region greatly affected his writings, which often included descriptions of the landscape. Following his graduation from the University of Michigan in 1967, Gilfillan attended the Writers` Workshop at the University of Iowa, from which he earned an M.F.A. degree in 1969. He would then move to New York City, and in the late 1970s, to Colorado. Most of his career has been devoted to his writing, including some time he spent working as a feature writer for Denver and Boulder newspapers during his early years in Colorado. His published writing consists primarily of poetry and essays, with his first book of poems, To Creature, appearing in 1975. One of his most significant books is Magpie Rising: Sketches from the Great Plains, a book of essays which appeared in 1988. It earned solid critical acclaim, as well as the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the best first-published memoir by an author. In a collection of essays entitled Sworn Before Cranes: Stories (1994), Gilfillan describes the culture of Native Americans from the Plains landscape and the clashes between their culture and that of the white world. Ray Olson, in Booklist, described the essays as being marked by "photographic clarity and poetic intensity." In Chokecherry Places: Essays from the High Plains (1998), Native American culture, and animals common to the region take prominent places. Another fiction title, Grasshopper Falls (2000), tells the story of the history of the Great Plains region and explores Native American lore and culture. Most of Gilfillan`s writings show his fascination with the region`s landscape. Some of his poetic works include Light Years: Selected Early Works (1977); River Through Rivertown (1982); Satin Street: Poems (1997); The Seasons (2002); and Rivers and Birds (2003). His poetic works describe the back roads of Appalachia and the western grasslands of the Great Plains, effectively expressing his love for these American treasures. Merrill Gilfillan lives and works in Boulder, Colorado.
Won the first PEN/Martha Albrand Award for his non-fiction work, Magpie Rising: Sketches from the Great Plains (1989).