Will(iam Weller) Weaver (1950–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1950, in Park Rapids, MN; Education: Attended Saint Cloud State University, 1968–69; University of Minnesota, B.A., 1972; Stanford University, M.A., 1979. Politics: "Progressive." Hobbies and other interests: Mountain hiking, hunting and fishing, studying short story form, rock and roll.
Office—Bemidji State University, 1500 Birchmont Drive, Bemidji, MN 56601. Agent—Lazear Agency, 326 South Broadway, Ste. 214, Wayzata, MN 55391.
Writer and educator. Farmer, Park Rapids, MN, 1977–81; Bemidji State University, Bemidji, MN, part-time writing instructor, 1979–81, associate professor, 1981–90, professor of English, 1990–.
Minnesota State Arts Board fellowship for fiction, 1979, 1983; "Grandfather, Heart of the Fields" named among Top Ten Stories of 1984, PEN/Library of Congress; "Dispersal" named among Top Ten Stories of 1985, PEN/Library of Congress; Bush Foundation fiction fellow, 1987–88; Friends of American Writers Award, 1989; Minnesota Book Award for Fiction, 1989; Pick of the Lists, American Booksellers Association, 1993, and Best Books for Young Adults, American Library Asso-ciation (ALA), 1994, both for Striking Out; Best Books for Young Adults, ALA, and Distinguished Book Award, International Reading Association, both 1996, and Best Books for Teens lists in Texas and Iowa, all for Farm Team; South Carolina Best Books designation, Texas Lone Star List, and Minnesota Book Award finalist, 1999, all for Hard Ball.
Red Earth, White Earth (adult novel), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1986.
A Gravestone Made of Wheat (short stories), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.
Striking Out (young adult novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
Farm Team (young adult novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
Hard Ball (young adult novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Memory Boy (young adult novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Claws (young adult novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Full Service (young adult novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2005.
Barns of Minnesota, photographs by Doug Ohman, Minnesota Historical Society Press (St. Paul, MN), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including Loonfeather, Prairie Schooner, Hartford Courant, San Francisco Chronicle, Kansas City Star, Chicago Tribune, Minneapolis Tribune, Newsday, Northern Literary Quarterly, Milkweed Chronicles, Library Journal, Chapel Hill Advocate, and Minnesota Monthly. Stories anthologized in Ultimate Sports, edited by Donald Gallo, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1995; No Easy Answers, edited by Gallo, Delacorte, 1997; and Time Capsule, edited by Gallo, Delacorte, 1999.
Red Earth, White Earth was adapted as a television film, Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS-TV), 1989.
Will Weaver writes novels for both adult and young adult readers that are grounded in the author's home in the upper Midwest. His novels for older readers have earned Weaver praise as "a writer of uncommon natural talent," from Frank Levering in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, and his work for teen readers has been equally lauded.
Weaver turned to young-adult fiction after publishing a highly successful adult novel and story collection, and penned a trio of books built around the central character of Billy Baggs. These books contain the same nuance of detail and depth of characterization as his adult fiction. Billy is a farm boy for whom baseball becomes a release, a passion, a metaphor for life's potentials.
Weaver was raised on a dairy farm near Park Rapids, Minnesota, where his family farmed 150 acres. One of three children, he attended the local country school. His parents, of Scandinavian descent, were devout in their Christian beliefs, and had little use for modern things such as television. Farm life could be hard, but it had its advantages," Weaver recalled of his childhood to Authors and Artists for Young Adults (AAYA). "There was so much independence on the farm. Sure there was work every day of the year, but there was also the kind of freedom for a young kid there that you could not find in town. You could drive at a young age and go fishing and hunting." Without the interruption of television, there was plenty of time for the imagination and for getting outside and doing things. Books came in the form of Readers Digest condensed books, which inspired Weaver's early interest in reading.
During his high-school years Weaver attended an urban school in Park Rapids, where he felt the disadvantages of his less-sophisticated, country education. A steady "B" student, he enjoyed being out in nature more than sitting behind a desk. However, one of his English teachers took an interest in Weaver, encouraging his writing and appreciation of literature. "This altered my direction," Weaver recalled. "Here was a teacher showing interest in my abilities and it gave me great confidence."
Weaver took classes at Saint Cloud State University, then earned his B.A. at the University of Minnesota. After graduation, he moved to California's San Francisco Bay Area, where he began writing. "I was lonely for the Midwest and started to write about it. The early sketches led to short stories." Soon he was joined in California by his girlfriend from college days and the two were married. On the strength of a couple of short stories, Weaver was admitted to Stanford's prestigious writing program, where once again he felt the consummate outsider. "Here I was, this rube from the Midwest, with a few pages of short stories in my notebooks while other students had stories published in major magazines or were sons or daughters of famous writers. It was a somewhat traumatic experience at first, but then later I discovered the value of the experience." Weaver and his wife also began careers in California's Silicon Valley. Starting as a technical writer, Weaver soon became manager of a high-tech company, but eventually the couple decided to return to the Midwest.
At first settling in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the couple soon migrated farther north. Weaver took over the running of his father's dairy farm for two years, but found that farm life was not for him. During this time Weaver had also been teaching at nearby Bemidji State University, and he soon parlayed teaching into a full-time job. Now writing more seriously, he began fashioning his short stories into a much larger work, the novel Red Earth, White Earth.
Weaver spent two years on his first novel, a tale of the return of a prodigal son to the Minnesota of his youth. Like Weaver, this fictional protagonist also returns from Silicon Valley, and once back in the Midwest must confront unrest between Native Americans and local farmers. Red Earth, White Earth earned critical praise and became a television movie three years after its publication. Suddenly Weaver was a literary figure, a "Midwestern voice," and his short-story collection A Gravestone Made of Wheat also impressed critics. With these two works, Weaver resolved the overall theme of his writing: "I began to see that I wanted to capture with my writing some of the small-farm texture that is so rapidly disappearing. I want to record that in a texture of aesthetic realism."
While struggling through a second adult novel and work as a tenured college professor, Weaver discovered a new audience for his writing while listening to his children, who were then in middle school. "They were full of stories from school and about their friends, and there I was hiding out in my study, struggling with my novel…. I was reminded of my own youth. I suddenly thought that I would write books my kids might enjoy reading." Coupling this new focus with his son's newfound interest in baseball, Weaver produced his next book, Striking Out, a tale of a thirteen-year-old farm boy who uses baseball to transcend his feelings of being an outsider.
Taking place in 1970, Striking Out focuses on Billy Baggs, a teen still trying to come to terms with the gruesome death of his older brother five years earlier. Billy still feels responsible for the accidental death, and the austere life of do's and don't's imposed by his stern father, Abner, make the teen's life that much more difficult. Abner, a victim of childhood polio, expects the worst from life and often gets it. Billy's mother, on the other hand, is still hopeful about life; with her savings she buys a typewriter and teaches herself the skills needed to get a job in town at the medical clinic. Billy fears he is destined for the same life his father has come to hate: a life spent on the farm. However, when he becomes involved with a teen baseball team and shows talent, Billy is aided by the team's supportive coach in convincing Abner to let him play ball. Ultimately, the task now falls to Billy to overcome his feelings of not belonging and deal with the jealousy of some teammates in order to prove to himself that his life can be what he chooses to make it.
"If this plot suggests a throwback to the … sports-oriented series from the 1940s and '50s," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer of Striking Out, "the subplots, involving teenage sex and the mother's decision to take an office job in town, are clearly the stuff of contemporary YA fiction." This same reviewer concluded that a "wealth of lovingly recounted details evokes the difficult daily life on a small dairy farm, while flashes of humor serve as relief." Dolores J. Sarafinski commented in Voice of Youth Advocates that "Weaver prevents the plot from becoming too cloying by the realistic representation of life on the farm and Billy's sexual interest in a young neighbor…. Weaver writes well and students ten years old and up will enjoy Billy's struggle, the baseball experience, and the vivid description of life on the farm." Betsy Hearne, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, pointed out the "clearly focussed plot" and the "fine-tuned psychological and physical pacing" that would "hold junior high school and high school readers," while Mary Harris Veeder declared in Chicago's Tribune Books that Weaver's name should be added to the list of the "few talented authors for this age group who manage to catch the significance of sports as the language in which much growing up expresses itself." Veeder concluded that "Many boys stop reading for fun in middle school; this book is good enough to change that."
Weaver continues the saga of Billy Baggs in Farm Team and Hard Ball, which follow Billy's progress at ages fourteen and fifteen respectively. In the former novel, the action picks up where it left off in Striking Out, with Billy's father taking revenge on a used car salesman who sold his wife a clunker. After running amok in the used car lot with a tractor, Abner is carted off to jail, leaving Billy to spend the summer working the farm with no time for pitching fast balls. Billy's mom comes to the rescue, helping to set up a playing field on their property and initiating Friday night games for some relaxation. Billy leads a makeshift group of country kids on the farm team and they ultimately defeat the pompous town kids in a game ending on a fly ball hit by Billy's rival, King Kenwood, and caught by Billy's dog.
While some reviewers found Farm Team less substantive than Striking Out, Todd Morning in School Library Journal dubbed the novel "a successful sequel," and wrote that the final game is "wonderfully evoked." Morning concluded that "Most readers will come away from this book looking forward to the next installment in the life of Billy Baggs." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that "Weaver combines wickedly sharp wit with a love of baseball and intimate knowledge of farm life to yield an emotionally satisfying tale" with a "good old-fashioned ending."
Hard Ball continues the competition between Billy and King Kenwood, but in this story the two must learn to deal with each other as well as the expectations of their respective fathers. King is from the better side of town, a child of privilege. The boys compete on the baseball field as well as for the heart of Suzy, a romantic rivalry that adds piquancy to their feud. It does not help that their fathers are as much at odds with one another as the sons are. As a result of a physical fight between Billy and King, the coach suggests that the boys spend a week together, splitting the time between each household. In the process, King gains a grudging admiration for the harsh farm life Billy leads and also begins to see how difficult Billy's father can be. Billy, in turn, learns that a "softer" life does not necessarily mean an easier one.
Claire Rosser, reviewing Hard Ball in Kliatt, noted that "There's a welcome earthiness here, in the language and in the farm situations, which add humor and realism." Rosser concluded that "Weaver gets this world exactly right, with the haves and have nots living separate lives, even in sparsely populated Minnesota farmland." Mary McCarthy commented in Voice of Youth Advocates that "Billy is an engaging, realistic character who leaves the reader rooting for more" and termed Hard Ball "an excellent read for a hot summer night, baseball fan or not." A Kirkus Reviews critic dubbed the book an "offbeat, exciting narrative," while a contributor to the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books concluded that "Weaver will have readers in the palm of his glove."
Memory Boy is a change of pace from Weaver's "Billy Baggs" novels. While also taking place in Minnesota, this is a Minnesota of the near future. The year is now 2008, and a massive volcano on the order of Krakatoa has dumped huge amounts of ash on the land and the air is polluted with toxic volcanic emissions. Chaos has erupted along with the volcano, and rioters, looters, and other desperate people roam the region, searching for a safe place to stay. Sixteen-year-old Miles Newell realizes that the wilderness is the safest place to be. He jury-rigs a home-made vehicle powered by bicycle and sailboat parts to transport his parents and younger sister to a small cabin he knows is located in the state's north-
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ern forest. Dealing with a host of obstacles on their journey, they reach the cabin only to find that it has been taken over by squatters, forcing the quick-witted teen to come up with a new plan.
Earning the author comparisons to books by noted author Gary Paulsen, Memory Boy was immediately embraced by readers and critics alike. Praising Weaver's survival tale, a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that the author "plants enough familiar details so that readers can relate—including … McDonald's restaurants" where "meals cost ten times as much" and spins an exciting tale wherein "danger lurks around every corner." "The post-apocalyptic future has never been so close or real as in this short, engrossing read," noted Debbie Carton in Booklist, while School Library Journal contributor Beth Wright praise courageous Miles as "a likeable, skateboarding wiseacre, bright and good with his hands," who, like many a son," is "always secretly hoping for his father's approval."
In Claws the life of Jed Berg, another sixteen-year-old Minnesota teen, is also disrupted, but by far-less-cataclysmic means. Jed has enjoyed a comfortable life, with a stable family life and a good report card, but all his assumptions about his world change when he receives an e-mailed photograph of his father in the arms of a strange woman. The e-mailer, the woman's daughter, is contacting Jed because she is trying to put an end to the affair; in fact she threatens to make the affair public if Jed does not find a way to convince his father to end it.
While some reviewers noted that the repercussions stemming from Jed's sudden knowledge tend to overwhelm the second part of the novel with melodrama as the family's life is turned upside down and everything falls apart, as Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper noted, "Jed's first-person narrative catches the normality and sweetness of his life," and his predicament illustrates the fragile nature of family life. The author's "wonderful use of language ably reflects the teen's turmoil," added School Library Journal contributor Betsy Fraser, citing Jed's inability to control the "anger and hurt over his father's behavior" and the physical outbursts that result in a school detention. Praising Weaver's character study, Fraser deemed Claws "a good choice for fans of more serios fiction."
Of his writing process, Weaver explained to AAYA: "I generally work without an outline; I only like to know a chapter or two ahead—like writing only as far as I can see by headlights. But the trouble is, sometimes you take the wrong turn with this method. You have to be flexible; you need to be able to start all over again, to throw away what does not work." Much of Weaver's writing is confined to the summer months when he is free of his teaching obligations. "I work about half a day," he noted. "I get between three and ten pages a day and I do my writing in a study off the garage."
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Weaver remains a firm believer in revision. "I always tell aspiring writers that they must be ready to revise. Only Mozart got it right the first time. Some of my short stories have been through twenty revisions; my novels through six to ten rewrites. I am very concerned with quality. If there is anything that will cement a writer's reputation, it's the sense that each book is as good as or better than the last one. That's a real goal of mine."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Weaver, Will, Red Earth, White Earth, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1986.
Booklist, November 15, 1993, p. 515; March 15, 1994, p. 1359; September 1, 1995, p. 66; March 15, 1996, p. 1284; February 1, 2001, Debbie Carton, review of Memory Boy, p. 1046; April 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Claws, p. 1463.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1994, Betsy Hearne, review of Striking Out, p. 204; September, 1995, pp. 32-33; May, 1998, review of Hard Ball, p. 343.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1997, review of Hard Ball, p. 1781; February 1, 2003, review of Claws, p. 242.
Kliatt, September, 1996, p. 5; July, 1998, Claire Rosser, review of Hard Ball, p. 9; March, 2003, Paula Rohrlick, review of Claws, p. 17; July, 2003, Barbara Jo McKee, review of Memory Boy, p. 35; March, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of Claws, p. 24.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 19, 1986, Frank Levering, review of Red Earth, White Earth, p. 9; March 12, 1989, pp. 1, 13.
Minneapolis Tribune, September 3, 1995.
New York Times Book Review, November 9, 1986, p. 33; March 12, 1989, Andy Solomon, review of A Gravestone Made of Wheat, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, August 30, 1993, review of Striking Out, p. 97; June 26, 1995, review of Farm Team, p. 108; January 22, 2001, review of Memory Boy, p. 325; January 13, 2003, review of Claws, p. 61.
School Library Journal, October, 1993, p. 156; July, 1995, Todd Morning, review of Farm Team, p. 96; June, 2001, Beth Wright, review of Memory Boy, p. 159; March, 2003, Betsy Fraser, review of Claws, p. 242.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), June 19, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Striking Out, p. 6.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1993, Dolores J. Sarafinski, review of Striking Out, p. 304; October, 1995, p. 226; June, 1998, Mary McCarthy, review of Hard Ball, p. 126.
Washington Post Book World, November 2, 1986, p. 8; March 26, 1989, p. 11.
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