VERMILLION, S.D. -- Years after he wrote one of the earlier books about the survival story of Hugh Glass, featured in the new movie “The Revenant,” author Frederick Manfred spent 15 years as writer-in-residence at the University of South Dakota, leaving an impact on students and the campus that remains today.
“I probably share things I learned about writing from Fred,” Michelle Rogge Gannon, director of USD’s Writing Center and an instructor in the English Department, said of her time in Manfred’s class as an undergraduate student. “He did remarkable research for his books and was generous with sharing his writing process with young writers. And his prose is really good.”
Manfred, who died in 1994 at age 82, based his 1954 book “Lord Grizzly” on the 1823-1824 experience of Glass, a frontiersman who was attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead near Lemmon, South Dakota, but survived. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Glass in “The Revenant,” which is based in part on Michael Punke’s book by the same name that was published years after Manfred’s work, though "Lord Grizzly" shows up on some recommended reading lists.
Manfred, a lanky 6-foot-9, grew up in Doon, Iowa, and was living at Luverne, Minnesota, when he was hired as a writer-in-residence at USD from 1968-1983. He commuted for his weekly writing class, spoke to larger groups of students and also offered individual help.
Gannon said Manfred’s class was a workshop for students interested in creative writing, and he willingly shared in detail the process of researching, writing and rewriting.
“He would tell stories about how he wrote his novels, people he met,” she recalled of her time in his class that once was invited to Manfred’s Minnesota home. “He had fixed dinner for us and had a manuscript he was working on and had spread it out on his huge bed. You could see the stages it went through from early draft to later draft to publication.”
It was that vibrant personality and deep desire to share what he had learned that Joe Basile, a retired USD English professor, remembers of Manfred.
“Extremely student oriented. Very kind about giving advice to people and always willing to talk to people about their interest,” Basile said.
In addition to having Manfred on campus, USD also hosted Oscar Howe, known worldwide for his Native American artwork, as an artist-in-residence from 1957-1980. “Those were very distinctive contributions to liberal arts at USD,” Basile said.
- 1986 South Dakota State Historical Society article by Manfred, The Making of Lord Grizzly (pdf)
- Biography and collection of Manfred’s correspondence and works while at USD at its University Libraries, which also has signed copies of Lord Grizzly and Manfred’s 1972 screenplay for a theatrical version of the book
- Biography, list of Manfred’s works and other books written about him, University of Nebaska’s Center for Great Plains Studies