Author and University of Chicago professor Norman Maclean’s papers are available for research in the Special Collections Research Center. Raised in Montana, Maclean earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1940 and taught English until he retired at age 70. He then began writing, and achieved national fame for works he wrote after his retirement, including the novel, A River Runs Through It. The collection includes correspondence, administrative and teaching materials from the University of Chicago, materials related to the creation and publication of his writings, and an array of additional materials. Maclean died in 1990.
Maclean’s distinguished teaching career at the University of Chicago began when he accepted a graduate assistantship in English at the University in 1928. He was promoted to instructor in 1930. Maclean earned his Ph.D. in English literature in 1940 with a dissertation on lyric poetry, and was made an assistant professor in 1941. He was promoted to associate professor in 1944, and attained a full professorship in 1954.
Maclean’s gift for teaching was recognized multiple times throughout his career. He won a teaching award early on in 1932, and was awarded the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1941 and again in 1973. Quantrell recipients are nominated by students and the award is a high honor for faculty. Though tough, Maclean’s courses were popular among students. His demand for excellence was tempered by a keen sense of fairness and a generosity of spirit toward the students he mentored. In 1962 he was installed as the William Rainey Harper Professor of English Literature, a position he held until his retirement in 1972.
Upon retirement, Maclean embarked on a second career as a writer. He eased into authorship with two well-received critical essays published in 1952, and a handful of autobiographical and witty essays published in the early 1970s. His most significant work of fiction, A River Runs Through It, was published in 1976 by the University of Chicago Press – the first work of new fiction ever published by the Press. A River Runs Through It consists of a novella of the same title and two short stories. The book was a critical success, a popular bestseller, and a contender for the 1977 Pulitzer Prize. Multiple filmmakers and production companies vied for the film rights to the book, and it was eventually adapted for film in 1992 under the direction of Robert Redford.
The University of Chicago named an undergraduate dormitory for Maclean — Maclean House — in 1991. Every year, residents celebrate “Maclean Day,” during which the House president gives a speech that celebrates Norman Maclean and the House community. In 1997 the University’s alumni association established the Norman Maclean Faculty Award which recognizes emeritus or senior faculty members who have made outstanding contributions to teaching and student life on campus.