Joe Wilkins

Joe Wilkins (CNF, Fiction, Poetry) | McMinnville, OR

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Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing up on the Big Dry, winner of a 2014 GLCA New Writers Award—an honor that has previously recognized early works by the likes of Richard Ford, Louise Erdrich, and Alice Munro—and two previous full-length collections of poems, Notes from the Journey Westward and Killing the Murnion Dogs. His most recent collection, When We Were Birds, part of the Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series edited by Billy Collins, is now out from the University of Arkansas Press.

A Pushcart Prize winner and National Magazine Award finalist, Wilkins has published essays, poems, and stories in The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, The Sun, Orion, and Slate, among other venues. Of Wilkins’s work, Deborah Kim, editor at the Indiana Review, writes, “The most striking component of it is its awareness of ‘the whole world.’ What is ordinary becomes transcendent. In places derelict and seemingly unexceptional, Wilkins compels us to recognize what is worth salvage, worth praise.”

Wilkins lives with his wife, son, and daughter in McMinnville, Oregon, where he teaches writing at Linfield College. As the winner of the Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency from PEN Northwest, he and his family spent the summer of 2015 living in a remote cabin along the Rogue River in the Klamath Mountains of Oregon.


When We Were Birds (University or Arkansas Press, 2016).  Miller Williams Prize. Poetry
Far Enough: A Western in Fragments (Black Lawrence Press, 2015). Fiction.
The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre: Explorations in Creative Nonfiction (Michigan State University Press, 2014). CNF. Craft Essays.

The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing up on the Big Dry (Counterpoint Press, 2012). CNF. Memoir.
Notes from the Journey Westward (White Pine Press, 2012). White Pine Press Poetry Prize. Poetry.
Killing the Murnion Dogs (Black Lawrence Press, 2011). Poetry.


Press & Reviews

“Full of imaginative novelty as well as reminders that miraculous secrets are hidden in the fabric of everyday life . . . these poems show us the truth and even the dignity of ordinary experience.”
—Billy Collins

“This gritty collection from Joe Wilkins showcases how the outdoors can be a classroom for all matters of the heart: it sneaks devastating truths and disjunctions into soil and shattered rivers, into places where ‘a vole snouts / through my throat, where a tree frog’s scream / fills my heart’s dark riffle.’ When We Were Birds doesn’t just contemplate all ruin and hard work, where ‘the backs of my hands / had lustered clear to burlap or dry river mud,’ but also masterfully showcases a magnificent spill and glide of beautiful language even if the speaker begs, ‘O god/of busted wishes/ leave me here a long time here/ in the stinking dark.’”
—Aimee Nezhukumatathil

“The most striking component of [Wilkins’s work] is its awareness of the whole world. What is ordinary becomes transcendent. In places derelict and seemingly unexceptional, Wilkins compels us to recognize what is worth salvage, worth praise.”
Indiana Review

Far Enough shows how a book can be woven out of shards that have been chiseled off the heartstone of the West and assembled in such a way as to make sense, to tell a story. It’s a postmodern western, but it’s a western nonetheless. While I read the book on a hot summer day, sitting in my hammock here in a village at the Appalachian edge of the Midwest, I started thinking of Mark Twain and Richard Brautigan, of Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich, of all those strong regional voices that capture the spirit of various frontiers. This is the spirit of Wilkins’s book. He brings to life through fragments a time and a place, a contemporary West in which mothers die not from bear attacks but from meth overdoses, a world in which the river runs dry every summer, possibly the action of an angry god, but more plausibly because of climate change. And it’s able to tell these stories through brief snippets, paragraphs, and one- to two-page pieces linked only by a shared vision of the world they create.
-Vivan Wagner, writing at Easy Street: A Magazine of Books and Culture

The Big Dry of eastern Montana makes for a subject of rich complexity. Joe Wilkins evokes place like Willa Cather. That is, place begins as a kind of raw, wide-open poetry. But Wilkins tells a different story. This is about the author’s search for a model of fatherhood, to fill spaces left empty by the death of his father. Wilkins strikes with staggering, melancholy, progressively self-reflective prose that, in part, inhabits the sparseness of the part of Montana where he was born and grew up. Yet his prose also pushes against what might be considered the standard fare of writing fixed in the American West. He addresses memory and the inability to remember in lyrical prose that is, at times, achingly beautiful yet never pretentious or sentimental and never cold. With exquisite control at both the structural and sentence level, he displays both a surety and openness to question, particularly with regard to class and masculinity without theorizing or naming them as such.
–Judges’ Citation for The Mountain and the Fathers, Winner of the 2014 GLCA New Writers Award in Nonfiction

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