When Bill McCloud returned from Vietnam, he began sorting out what to do with his life. His war experience, added to his love of history and affair with words, eventually coalesced into a life path.
A three-time winner of the Woody Guthrie Poet Award (2019, 2018, 2017), he is as plain as the red dirt of Oklahoma and as distinctive as the land rush that marked the territory called “Sooner State.” His poetry and nonfiction persuade readers to think, empathize, and reflect on just how the pivotal the decades of 1960-70 were and how they fit into the national fabric.
He earned undergraduate degrees from Northern Oklahoma College, Oklahoma State University, and a master’s from Northeastern State University. Pryor Junior High School, Pryor, Oklahoma, gave him classes to hone his teaching skills before he moved to Rogers State University in 2009.
The Smell of the Light: Vietnam, 1968-1969 (Balkan Press), a first book of poetry, is especially poignant. A tapestry of thoughts range over and around those Vietnam experiences. Here’s an example:
My Vietnam Experience
I landed in Vietnam
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated
Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated
There was rioting at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago
Students took over the administrative offices at Columbia University
Catholic activists burned hundreds of files from a draft board in Maryland
I left Vietnam
The book provides a slice of history and a sensitive collection of poetry.
His nonfiction assemblage of letters and essays, What Shall We Tell Our Children About Vietnam? (University of Oklahoma Press), pulled ideas from politicians, veterans, parents, nurses, and authors—those people whose lives were affected by the war. It contains hindsight, sorrow, reflection, and—sometimes—wisdom. At the time of the book’s publication in 1989, the Vietnam War was seldom taught as part of American history. Now, What Shall We Tell Our Children About Vietnam? often serves as a text.
McCloud’s poetry, papers, and writing are archived in the main library at Harvard University. His work can also be read on the walls of Tulsa Transit Metro. Gotta love the juxtaposition between those two honors.
I am especially grateful to Bill McCloud for reading my novel and writing a blurb for If You Walk Long Enough, scheduled for the shelves in 2021.