Sherman Alexie, Native American writer and satirist, said in 2004 of James Welch’s book of poetry, “Riding the Earthboy 40 is the most important book of poetry in all of Native American literature. James Welch is our Frost, Donne, Dickinson, and Stevens. At my most ambitious, I hope to someday write a book this great. At my most depressed, I turn to this book for comfort and faith. It is truly one of my holy bibles.” This quote on the back of Welch’s seminal book of poetry describes the wordsmithing of one of Montana’s noted Native American writers. James Welch, of Blackfeet and Gros Ventre heritage, was raised on the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap Reservations as well as cities throughout the west. He studied under the poet Richard Hugo while working towards an MFA from the University of Montana. During his writing career, he completed six books of prose and one of poetry. According to his wife, Lois Welch, “His overarching desire was for us all to see Indians as real people.”
The James Welch Fiction Award is given in the name of one of Montana’s most probing and gifted writers. It is presented for a piece of fiction which contains qualities found within Welch’s work, such as glimpses into culture, the challenging of beliefs, and beautiful language. Welch was one of the first Native American writers to gain national recognition for his mastery of language and sharing of culture. This award recognizes the work of an author who, like Welch, tells stories of people and place to an international audience.