Close up of Nevada Writers Hall of Fame medal and Silver Pen.

Douglas Unger

2007 Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Inductee, 1996 Silver Pen Awardee


Douglas Unger was born in Moscow, Idaho, on June 27, 1952, and spent some summers working on his father's ranches in Colorado and South Dakota. When he was 16, he was awarded an American Field Service scholarship for a year of study in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during 1969-70. In 1971, he studied German language and culture at the Goethe Institute in Blaubeuren, Germany. While a student at the University of Chicago, he was an antiwar activist and became the managing editor of the Chicago Review. In 1973, he received the University of Chicago's Olga and Paul Menn Foundation Award for writing along with his B.A. degree. He received a Teaching-Writing Fellowship at the University of Iowa for 1975-76. He was Assistant Editor at The Iowa Review and obtained his MFA in Fiction at the University of Iowa's Iowa Writer's Workshop in 1977. Then he and his wife, Amy Burk Unger, moved to Washington state, where he worked as a commercial fisherman until they moved to his wife's family's homestead farm. From 1981-1983, he was the Arts journalist and theater critic for The Bellingham Herald (Washington State) and Friday Magazine for Gannett Newspapers. Also during the 1980s, he worked as a photographer and a stringer journalist for UPI and wrote for the PBS program the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour. He also completed coursework toward a master's degree in Theater at Western Washington University before joining the English Department faculty at Syracuse University in 1983. He directed its Creative Writing Program in 1984-85. He received the Society of Midland Authors Award in 1984 for his first novel, Leaving the Land, which was a finalist for the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He also received a Special Citation, P.E.N. Ernest Hemingway Award for Leaving the Land in 1985. That same year, he received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship to support his writing. In 1989, a Fulbright Comparative Literature Fellowship enabled him to teach at universities in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. He is an occasional book reviewer for the New York Times and other publications. In 1991, he became a member of the faculty of the English Department at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. In 1996, he became a full member in the Writers Guild of America-West, received the (Washington State) Governor's Writer's Award for Leaving the Land, and became one of the first writers to be selected for the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Silver Pen Award. Since 2001, he has been the Director of its international MFA program in creative writing, which he co-founded with Richard Wiley. He is currently a member of UNLV's Cultural Studies Committee and its Latin American Studies Committee. He has served on the editorial boards of several university presses. In 2003, he was a judge for New Zealand's Schaeffer Literature Prize, and was a 2004 judge for New Zealand's Prize in Modern Letters award. The State of Nevada, Board of Regents, selected him for the Creative Activity Award & Medal in 2005. Unger is on the Advisory Board of the Cities of Refuge - North America for dissident writers.