National Book Critics Circle Awardees for General Nonfiction

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Young Men and Fire (1992)

Written by Norman Maclean

On August 5, 1949, a crew of fifteen of the United States Forest Service's elite airborne firefighters, the Smokejumpers, stepped into the sky above a remote forest fire in the Montana wilderness. Two hours after their jump, all but three of these men were dead or mortally burned.

Haunted by these deaths for forty years, Norman Maclean puts back together the scattered pieces of the Mann Gulch tragedy. Young Men and Fire won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992. (Copyright © University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.)

Source:  University of Chicago Press.

Norman Fitzroy Maclean was an American author and scholar noted for his books A River Runs Through It and Other Stories (1976) and Young Men and Fire (1992).

In 1940, Maclean earned his doctorate from the University of Chicago where during World War II he declined a commission in Naval intelligence to serve as Dean of Students. During the war he also served as Director of the Institute on Military Studies, and co-authored Manual of Instruction in Military Maps and Aerial Photographs. At the University of Chicago, Maclean taught Shakespeare and the Romantic poets, and he produced two scholarly articles, "From Action to Image: Theories of the Lyric in the Eighteenth Century" and "Episode, Scene, Speech, and Word: The Madness of Lear." 

His most acclaimed story, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories was published in 1976, the first work of original fiction published by the University of Chicago Press. This title was nominated by a selection committee to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Letters in 1977, but the full committee ignored the nomination and did not award a Pulitzer in that category for the year. A River Runs Through It was adapted into a motion picture directed by Robert Redford and released by Columbia Pictures starring Craig Sheffer as Maclean, Brad Pitt, and Tom Skerritt in 1992.

Maclean's books and short stories—ending with Young Men and Fire (1992) published posthumously—are noted for their keen adaptation of autobiographical details and lyrical prose. Young Men and Fire, a non-fiction account of the tragic 1949 Mann Gulch forest fire, was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992.

Too young to enlist in the military during World War I, Maclean worked in logging camps and for the United States Forest Service in what is now the Bitterroot National Forest of northwestern Montana. The novella USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky and the story "Black Ghost" in Young Men and Fire (1992) are semi-fictionalized accounts of these experiences.

Maclean died on August 2, 1990, in Chicago, at the age of 87 of natural causes.

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