Snow Falling on Cedars (Guterson)

Author Bio 
Birth—May 4, 1956
Where—Seattle, Washington, USA
Education—M.A., University of Washington
Awards—Pen/Faulkner Award, 1995
Currently—lives on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound,

David Guterson is the author of a collection of short stories, The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind; Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense; Snow Falling on Cedars, which won the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award, the Pacific Northwest Bookseller Association Award, and was an international bestseller; and the national bestseller East of the Mountains.

Like many great writers before him, David Guterson draws on the rich local culture of the Pacific Northwest for inspiration in creating unforgettable characters and settings. Guterson credits many influences on his writing, beginning with his father, Murray Guterson, a distinguished criminal defense lawyer: His father's example taught him first and foremost to choose a career he would love, which also meant making positive contributions to the world.

Guterson was intrigued by the narrative of his father's cases. He often sat in on trials, but never felt the urge to become an attorney. When he started college, after one week in a creative writing class, he decided to become a writer. He eventually studied under Charles Johnson (author of Middle Passage), developing his ideas about the moral function of literature and concluded that it is the obligation of writers to present moral questions for reflection.

As Guterson honed his skills as a writer, he sought a variety of jobs that would afford him the time to practice his craft. He narrowed it down to firefighter or English teacher, and chose to become a teacher, mainly because he wanted to surround himself with books and writers on a daily basis. He moved to Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, teaching English at the local high school and freelancing as a journalist for Sports Illustrated and Harper's magazine.

During his years as an English teacher, Guterson discovered another one of his life's great influences. Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird became his favorite book, using the structure as a basis for Snow Falling on Cedars and asking many of the same moral questions. He says of Harper Lee's only book, "No other book had such an enormous impact. I read it 20 times in 10 years and it never got old, only richer, deeper and more interesting."

Guterson's first published works were short stories, mostly about young men poised on the edge of manhood, set in the Pacific Northwest. The stories were eventually published under the title The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind in 1989.

Finally, after ten years of researching and writing, Guterson's first novel was released in1995. Snow Falling on Cedars is the story of a tranquil town of fishermen and strawberry farmers, captivated by the murder a local man and the resulting trial of his lifelong friend. But the novel is more than a historical novel about the internment of Japanese-Americans or an inter-racial love story. Ultimately, the narrative seeks to ask the most basic of questions. That is, in a universe so indifferent to our fate, what is the best way to endure? Readers and critics responded, and the novel won a string of awards, including a Barnes and Noble's Discover Great New Writers distinction and the 1995 Pen/Faulkner award.

Guterson's sophomore release in 1998 may have had some large shoes to fill, but the beautifully written East of the Mountains treated readers to a story of rebirth, set in the lush apple orchards of the Pacific Northwest. The novel details the final journey of a dying man's determination to end his life on his own terms, and contains Guterson's signature style of lustrous, emotional prose.

Fans of Guterson had to wait five more years for the 2003 release of Our Lady of the Forest, but readers and critics agree it was worth the wait. Guterson allows his characters to be all-to-human in this story of a young runaway who develops a following of believers after she reports seeing the Virgin Mary in the forest. His characters lust, fail and do the wrong thing, and even the landscape is imperfect in this suspenseful tale of what happens when one's faith is called into question. Classic Guterson.

• When he won the 1995 Pen/Faulkner award for Snow Falling on Cedars, Guterson quickly recognized the reclusive Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird for his success. He wrote to Lee asking her to come to the award ceremony in Washington, D.C., but being a highly private woman, she didn't attend.

Snow Falling on Cedars was adapted for a 1999 film of the same title, directed by Scott Hicks and starring Ethan Hawke. The movie received an Academy Award nomination for cinematography. (From Barnes & Noble.)

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