Lois Phillips Hudson was born in August 1927 in Jamestown, North Dakota, to Carl Wayne Phillips and Aline Runner Phillips. In 1935, after weathering the devastating effects of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, the family moved to Washington State. Hudson graduated from the University of Puget Sound and later, Cornell University. Her first book, Reapers of the Dust: A Prairie Chronicle, a collection of short stories, was published in 1957, and in 1962, the much lauded novel, Bones of Plenty, which received the Friends of American Writers Award. After teaching at North Dakota State University, Hudson joined the University of Washington English Department in 1969.
When I joined the faculty, Lois Hudson was a well-established writer. I was in awe of the more experienced creative writers, lists of books under their names. One day, I noticed a full professor looking across the aisle where I sat with the other junior members. We wore the uniform of the sixties—denim. I saw in the professor’s stare a look of astonishment, one that said: Where has propriety gone? Lois sat right behind him. When I looked at her, she winked. Over the years, I came to recognize that quick flash of humor, not as derision, but as an indication of her keen sense of observation.
In “Springtime in the Rockies,” she writes about revisiting the prairie, looking for signs of places where the “songs of frogs [had been] the voice of the air”:
I passed below the upraised roots of a cottonwood that had been pushed over by a bulldozer. The flat powerful web of tree roots wrenched from their old secrets in the earth and towering dead above me reminded me that soon the creek out here would be “rechanneled” to contain the blueprints for Table Mesa Drive.
It takes no more than a few pages to recall Hudson’s raspy voice, her passion for nature and particularly the open prairie. The ‘out of doors’ was never outside of doors, but an ever-expanding place where she found her sense of self. To underscore a point, she would often lean forward, eyes bright with the discovery of how nature could forever change and often empower other characters in both the silence and noise of its making. Her candor and wit left a lasting impression on the many fledging writers she mentored.
Lois Phillips Hudson died Christmas Eve of 2010 after battling pancreatic cancer.