Larry Woiwode's saintly dedication to writing made him a hero to fellow authors and a small following of readers.
The author's acclaimed multigenerational novel "Beyond the Bedroom Wall" drew national acclaim and wide readership.
Much delayed because of his writing struggles, the 600-age work triggered an emotional breakdown and nearly ruined his marriage. Washington Post critic Jonathan Yardley cited the book as one of the 20th century's greatest novels.
After that success, Woiwode wrote additional novels, short stories, essays, biographies and poetry, and taught the writing craft at a number of universities. He was also named North Dakota's poet laureate.
Outside of a dedicated readership, he never again achieved national recognition, more and more engaging in a career as a "regional writer."
Woiwode died April 28 at age 80 at a hospital in Bismarck, N.D., after a short illness, according to obituaries in the New York Times, Washington Post and other publications.
Like James Salter and Richard Yates, Woiwode was known as one of the high priests of fiction whose critical appreciation didn't result in sustained wide readership.
A North Dakota native and graduate of the University of Illinois, Woiwode began his literary career in New York City, where he was one of the writers tutored by New Yorker literary editor William Maxwell, also a native of the Midwest. Like Maxwell, Woiwode was haunted by the early death of his mother.
Maxwell published many of Woiwode's early stories, and often brought sandwiches to the near-starving writer. They often ate lunch together in a park, discussing writing.
After a decade in New York, Woiwode moved with his wife and young family to a farm in rural North Dakota, where Woiwode followed dual careers as a writer and farmer. His wife, Caroline, who survives him, left with their young son for a while as he battled to complete "Beyond the Bedroom Wall." The New York Times obituary tells of Woiwode's harrowing farm experiences, including near fatal accidents involving his children and brutal weather.
Raised Roman Catholic, Woiwode and his wife later converted to a conservative faction of the Presbyterian Church. Woiwode was one of the few late 20th century American writers for whom religion was a central theme. Catholic writers Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor come to mind; perhaps Woiwode's Catholic upbringing influenced his religious outlook.
Woiwode's career traces several dominant themes of American literature: the rural vs. urban mileus, the conflict between the American West and the Northeastern literary establishment, and the regional sense of place given universal significance.
Tracing influences of Willa Cather, O'Connor, William Faulkner, Maxwell, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Raymond Carver, Robert Frost and other writers, Woiwode was an original writer whose "Beyond the Bedroom Wall" will remain a classic.