Monday, June 7, 2010

Bill Hotchkiss, 1936-2010

Bill Hotchkiss died on May 8. He was an accomplished, prolific writer of poetry and novels and spent almost his whole life in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada (near Grass Valley, where he went to high school), with some stints in the foothills near Mount Shasta. He was probably more personally immersed in the Sierra Nevada than even John Muir or Gary Snyder.

Many of Bill's poetry books were published by presses he operated, first Blue Oak Press and then Castle Peak Editions. He published other writers through these presses. Climb to the High Country, however, was published by W.W. Norton, as was what is probably is best achievement in the novel-form, Medicine Calf, an historical novel based on the life of James Beckwourth, a "mountain man" of both African American and Native American heritage. A pass through the Sierra Nevada mountains is named after him.

Bill had a gift for writing narrative poetry that reflected his fierce love of the wilderness.

He also wrote several novels in the "western" genre but focused not on cowboys and gunslingers but mountain explorers and Native Americans.

To a degree, Bill did the impossible: He taught for 50 years at a community college (Sierra College, in Rocklin) but still managed to be a prolific writer. He was still on the faculty of Sierra College--the Nevada County branch--when he died. For several years, he team-taught a course with his brother, Dick Hotchkiss, who is a master ceramicist.

I took literature courses from Bill at Sierra before I moved on to U.C. Davis. They were terrific courses, and Bill liked to heap on the reading. He read drafts of several early poems I wrote. We kept in contact over the years; we last exchanged emails a few months ago.

Bill earned a B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Oregon.

Bill also served as the literary executor of William Everson (Brother Antoninus), who was, peripherally, part of the Beat Movement. Both Everson and Hotchkiss viewed themselves as the literary "children" of Robinson Jeffers.

So raise a glass of wine--I think he preferred red--to Bill Hotchkiss, teacher, poet, novelist, publisher, editor, and advocate for the wilderness.

Some books by Bill:

Medicine Calf

Pawnee Medicine (American Indians (Dell))

Who drinks the wine

The Graces of Fire and Other Poems

Yosemite

Climb to the High Country: Poems

1 comment:

D.W. Palma said...

I haven't had many people come into my life that made as big an impact in as little time. I took his British Lit class and Poetry writing class - he had this way of getting his views across while respecting and affirming another point of view, regardless how fundamentally different it may be. I still chuckle when I imagine the faces of the RCPs when they found out they had a Republican sitting in on their meetings to (as Bill would put it) keep them honest. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from him. He introduced me to Jeffers and gave me points on how to be a better writer. He also stressed that I get my degrees. Even after I left Sierra we continued to correspond via email - he still continued to teach and his feedback is still invaluable - always will be. I wish I could have talked to him just once more, but like so many things I took for granted that he would be here for a while longer. He will always be missed, but at the same time he will always be alive.