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Walter Van Tilburg Clark was born August 3, 1909, in East Orland, Maine. In 1917 his father became president of the University of Nevada and the family moved to Reno, where Clark spent his formative years. In 1931, after receiving a master's degree from the University of Nevada, Clark moved to Vermont to pursue a teaching career. His first book, Ten Women in Gale's House and Shorter Poems, was published in 1932.
In 1993 Clark was married to Barbara Frances Morse, and in 1940 he published The Ox-Bow Incident. It was enthusiastically praised by critics and immediately established Clark's reputation as a major American writer, one whose moral and artistic seriousness transcended and transformed the Western novel. It was made into a move in 1943, and it remains a widely read American classic.
Clark published his second novel, The Track of the Cat, in 1945; it was recieved somewhat more critically than The Ox-Bow Incident. In 1946 Clark returned to the West, taking up a teaching position at the University of Nevada. In 1950 Clark completed The Watchful Gods and Other Stories, his last published work.
Thereafter Clark remained a very active and committed teacher, and though he wrote much, he published little. At the time of his death Clark was working on two novels, and was editing the diaries of nineteenth-century frontiersman Alfred Doten. He died of cancer on November 10, 1971.