Richard Etulain, retired professor for the history department at the University of New Mexico, published his 60th book this year, “Mark O. Hatfield: Oregon Statesman (The Oklahoma Western Biographies Book 33),” on politician Hatfield, who contributed greatly to Etulain’s philosophy against bipartisanship.
Born in eastern Washington and raised on a sheep ranch by his Basque immigrant father and “frontier mother,” Etulain was no stranger to hard work. Growing up, his father consistently reminded him that “anything you set out to do, get ‘er done.” With this in mind, and despite an initial nervousness surrounding writing, Etulain has churned out a book every year since his retirement in 2001.
Since childhood, Etulain has been fascinated by the West, his cultural identity and the broad history of the United States and its many leaders. Without the constraints of academic procedure, he has been exploring history tirelessly. Writing about people like Billy the Kid, Calamity Jane and Abraham Lincoln (who himself proudly claimed the title of Westerner), Etulain has truly covered the full span of the notorious original Westerners.
“I was hesitant about my writing at first,” Etulain said. “Growing up, (my family) didn’t talk much, so it took me a long time before I had confidence in my writing.”
While Etulain was getting comfortable with writing, he researched. His first books were compilations of information gathered from a plethora of sources, some being other books. Reading two to three books a week, he has long been a self-proclaimed bibliomaniac, and finds that “research is the first step” to good writing.
The book that kick-started his career, “Conversations With Wallace Stegner on Western History and Literature,” was one of collected data built upon research. It was also a well-planned career choice since Stegner himself was a bestselling author.
“If you want to be a bestseller early on in your career, marry yourself to a bestseller,” Etulain said.
Etualin is not only guided by passion but also by reason. As a professor, he felt pressured to release strictly academic books. As a researcher and proud historian, there was no issue with turning out these types of pieces, although he said the works aren’t built to be appreciated by a broad audience but instead only for “other academics.” Because of this, the confines of academic literature grew to be somewhat stifling.
“When you're in academics, you quite often write academic books because you’ll be promoted. In the 1990s, I looked around and said, ‘Well I've done all the academic books I need to,’” Etulain said.
Etulain has no plans to stop writing, and his wife, retired librarian Joyce Etulain, has watched writing become such an integral part of his life that she, too, has no idea when or if he might retire from authorship.
“I knew that he’d write books because as a professor there’s an expectation to (do so) in order to be promoted but … I never expected this — not sixty books, maybe not even ten,” Joyce Etulain said.
Richard Eutlain is not the only book person of the family as Joyce Etulain and their daughter, Jackie Etulain, are librarians and assist Richard Etulain in editing his works. Jackie Etulain and her parents talk on the phone every day to discuss literature.
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“(Richard) has a lot of depth of interest,” Joyce Elutain said. “I think it’s pretty remarkable, the range of subjects he’s covered in his career.”
Richard Etulain’s 61st book is set to be a memoir about growing up on a sheep ranch, which he said will be another book to explore his own history in relation to the history of others — like his books on Basque culture and life in the West — and is sure to be the most personal.
Natalie Jude is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or onTwitter @natalaroni