Raised in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, William Kent Krueger briefly attended Stanford University—before being kicked out for radical activities. After that, he logged timber, worked construction, tried his hand at freelance journalism, and eventually ended up researching child development at the University of Minnesota. He currently makes his living as a full-time author. He’s been married for over 40 years to a marvelous woman who is a retired attorney. He makes his home in St. Paul, a city he dearly loves.
Krueger writes a mystery series set in the north woods of Minnesota. His protagonist is Cork O’Connor, the former sheriff of Tamarack County and a man of mixed heritage—part Irish and part Ojibwe. His work has received a number of awards, including the Minnesota Book Award, the Loft-McKnight Fiction Award, the Anthony Award, the Barry Award, the Dilys Award, and the Friends of American Writers Prize. His last eight novels were all New York Times bestsellers.
Ordinary Grace, his stand-alone novel published in 2013, received the Edgar Award, given by the Mystery Writers of America in recognition for the best novel published in that year. Desolation Mountain, number seventeen in his Cork O’Connor series, was released in August 2018.
Birth and Afterbirth
Call me Kent.
I was born November 16, 1950 in Torrington, Wyoming, the third of four children whose parents convinced them that they had gypsy blood flowing through their veins. Before I graduated from high school, I’d lived in eleven different houses, in eight different cities, in six different states. By the time I was old enough to know what’s what, I realized that we simply moved every time the rent was due. Some of my best years were spent in Hood River, Oregon, so when people ask where I’m from, I usually lay that “honor” on Oregon.
I attended Stanford University for one year. In the turbulent spring of 1970, I understood the administration and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of political issues. For example, they didn’t look kindly on my participation in a takeover of the president’s office in protest of what I saw as the University’s complicity in weapons production during the Vietnam War. Not only did they sic the riot police on me, they evaporated my academic scholarship, forcing me to leave after my freshman year. Which was okay by me. I’d met the woman I knew I wanted to marry, and she lived in Nebraska. So I headed east.
The Real World
Over the next few years, I logged a bit of timber, worked a lot of construction, published a few magazine articles, and generally enjoyed life. I married—that lovely Cornhusker named Diane—and we pretty much had a ball.
Then we conceived our first child, a daughter whose name would be Seneca, and we had to get serious about life. In the summer of 1980, we moved to St. Paul, Minnesota so that Diane could attend law school. Talk about Hell. She gave birth to our second child, Adam, in the first semester of her final year—and still made the Dean’s List.
It was during this period of time that I began to write in earnest and to develop the habits that became the basis for the writing discipline I follow to this day.
Flame Broiled Fiction
At nineteen, I wanted to be Ernest Hemingway. I read everything by him and about him. In the course of my reading, I stumbled onto a couple of pieces of information concerning Papa’s lifestyle that I tried to incorporate into my own way of being. First of all, Hemingway never wore underwear. Well hell, I thought, whatever was good enough for Papa was good enough for me. Right away I discovered that Hemingway must have been made of sterner stuff, and I went back to wearing my beloved Fruit of the Looms. But I also learned in my reading that Hemingway’s favorite time of day for writing was at first light. I gave it a try. And I liked it.
For several years after moving to St. Paul, we lived at the edge of a quiet neighborhood called Tangletown. (The streets were confusing and lovely.) A block away stood a café called the St. Clair Broiler that opened its doors at 6:00 a.m. I began rising at 5:30 to groom and prepare for the day, then I’d hit the Broiler and spend an hour or so writing before I hustled off to my job that kept food on the table and a roof over our heads. Mostly I wrote short stories, some of which were published, and couple of which won awards. Writing longhand in cheap wire-bound notebooks in booth #4 at the Broiler became for me a part of the magic of the creative process.
Although I write full time now and don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn, I still do. I make the trek to the Broiler and spend a couple of hours hunched over my notebook while the sun rises over the shops across the street and the traffic begins to fill Snelling Avenue. For me, it’s still the best time of every day. Not only am I dreaming in those hours, I’m fulfilling the dream.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little voyeuristic peek at my life. Some of it, I swear, is true.
Addendum 2011: In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to add a little to my biography, particularly as it relates to my morning writing regime. The St. Clair Broiler and I have separated, not because of anything on their part, but because I moved. I still live in St. Paul, but such a great distance from the Broiler that it would be a difficult commute to write there every morning. I still do all my creative work in a coffee shop; it’s just a different coffee shop these days. Do I miss the Broiler? Absolutely. There will always be a place in my heart for the folks who welcomed me so warmly all those years, and, of course, for booth #4.
Here’s an interview that focuses on my Minnesota connection: