The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Tracy Daugherty Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Janice Dilg.

June 2, 2015


Tracy D. Daugherty was born in 1955 in Midland, Texas, where he was also raised. Influenced by his grandfather, an Oklahoma politician with a love of literature and history, Daugherty became fascinated at an early age with speaking and writing. He spent much of his childhood reading, developing an interest in astronomy and drumming on the side. In the early 1970s, his father's work moved the family to Dallas, Texas and in 1973 Daugherty decided to stay close to home and enroll in the English program at Southern Methodist University, earning his Bachelors of Arts in 1976.

Daugherty spent 1977 mostly out of school, studying for two months in Ohio before returning to Dallas to work in a book store. In 1978 he re-enrolled at Southern Methodist University and began work on his Master's degree. He studied English and Creative Writing there and ultimately completed his master's studies in 1983. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Houston two years later, in 1985, producing as his Ph.D. thesis a novel, Desire Provoked, which was published a year later.

Daugherty left Texas in 1986 when he moved to Corvallis, Oregon, where he had accepted a position as Assistant Professor in the English Department at Oregon State University. In his first decades at OSU, Daugherty taught multiple writing and literature courses, played a crucial role in the creation of a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing, and wrote prodigiously. Perhaps most notably, Daugherty published a novel, What Falls Away, that won the Oregon Book Award for Fiction in 1996. That same year he also released a collection of short stories, The Woman in the Oil Field, and in 1999 he completed yet another novel, The Boy Orator.

Daugherty's productivity did not diminish in the decades to come. In 2002 he published a collection of short stories, It Takes a Worried Man, which won Oregon's H.L. Davis Award for Short Fiction. In 2004 he received the state's Ken Kesey Award for the Novel for Axeman's Jazz, published a year earlier. A book of essays, Five Shades of Shadow, appeared in 2003, followed by another novel, What Falls Away (2006) and a third collection of short stories One Day the Wind Changed, released in 2010.

More recently Daugherty has focused his energies on the writing of biography. His first non-fiction work, published in 2010, was Hiding Man a biography of the author Donald Barthelme, who was Daugherty's mentor during his years in Houston. Hiding Man won the Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction - Daugherty's fourth Oregon Book Award - and the critical success of this work led to a new biographical study, 2011's Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller. A highly anticipated third biography, The Last Love Song, focusing on Joan Didion, was issued in 2015. In the midst of this, Daugherty's fifth novel, The Empire of the Dead also came to press in 2014.

Tracy Daugherty retired from OSU in 2013 as Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and Creative Writing. During his tenure at Oregon State he received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Bread Loaf, and the Vermont Studio Center, and was active in numerous professional organizations, including the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and Literary Arts, an organization based in Portland.