Who are Seattle’s best writers? Ask the question in the local, literary bar scene, and it’s unlikely the name Robert Clark will come up.
In 2001, Seattle P-I book editor John Marshall described Clark as a “mid-list writer ready to break out.”
Perhaps he has. Clark’s “Dark Water: Flood and Redemption in the City of Masterpieces,” his 2008 book about the 1966 flood in Florence, Italy, is a masterful, gripping narrative that received national plaudits and the Washington State Book Award for history/biography.
His new novel, “Heaven,” an account of homosexual love in the post-war 1950s, in a seemingly “normal,” middle-class setting, is getting attention for its ambiguity and “Mad Men” resonance.
Clark is on the MFA creative writing faculty at Seattle Pacific University, where Gregory Wolfe, program director and publisher and editor of Image magazine, has assembled a constellation of powerful literary lights. That fact, too, is under-sung in Seattle.
Clark writes fiction and nonfiction with equal virtuosity. He’s done a biography of James Beard (1993), which was heaped with critical praise. His book on the Columbia River, “River of the West: A Chronicle of the Columbia” (1997), tells the stories of the people who settled on or near its banks and brings the river to life through vivid, human stories, ranging from David Douglas to Woody Guthrie to Indian fishingrights activist Robert Satiacum. Each chapter reads like an indelible short story.
“My Grandfather’s House: A Genealogy of Doubt and Faith” (2000), a lovely piece of Americana, is an account of Clark’s family religious history and his own conversion to Roman Catholicism.
Novels include “Love Among the Ruins,” “Mr. White’s Confession” and “In the Deep Midwinter.”
The Wall Street Journal has written of “the subtlety of [Clark’s] artistry and the profundity of his vision.”
Still, as Seattle Times book critic Mary Ann Gwinn has noted, maybe Clark is so versatile he lacks a “brand,” that all-important tool of the modern, even literary, marketplace. Could be. Artistic integrity like Clark’s isn’t easy to “brand,” whether he has “broken out” or not. But the work is out there. — Mike Dillon