Laxalt family’s story in spotlight

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Warren Lerude recalled Northern Nevada literary lineage Monday.

The professor emeritus at the University of Nevada, Reno, former Reno editor-publisher and 1977 Pulitzer Prize winner reminisced about his friend and fellow author, the late literary figure Robert Laxalt of Carson City and Reno. Lerude joined an informal group at Grandma Hattie’s to discuss “Robert Laxalt: The Story of a Storyteller,” a recently released biography he researched and wrote over four years.

The Lerude talk was rich in Carson City history, a rundown of Nevada’s top literary contributors and a tribute to the entire Laxalt family — particularly the late writer’s mother.

“She was tough,” said Lerude. “She was one strong (Roman) Catholic lady.”

Lerude recounted the story of Dominique and Theresa Laxalt and their brood of six kids, which included Robert the writer and Paul the politician. The latter rose to become Nevada governor and a U.S. senator.

“Those kids were raised, basically, by their mother,” he said.

Lerude said she came from France to Reno, met Dominique — then a well-off Silver State stockman — married him after both were “smitten,” then had to struggle financially along with her husband and budding family. That was due to the 1921 livestock crash. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu in France, he said, she cooked for sheep herders in far-flung parts of Nevada a while after that livestock swoon decimated the Basque stockman’s holdings.

Later she moved into Carson City and ran a hotel. Her husband kept sheep herding, yet came periodically into town as the family replenished its fortunes through the Prohibition era and into the mid-20th century.

Robert Laxalt read extensively while house-bound by rheumatic fever as a youngster, said Lerude, later also getting a prod toward more reading from Walter Van Tilburg Clark, author of “The Ox Bow Incident.” Lerude said Laxalt was given pointed advice in Virginia City by Clark.

“‘If you want to be a writer,’ Lerude quoted Clark as saying, ‘you’ve got to be a reader.’”

Clark gave Laxalt a list of books to read, Lerude said, and Laxalt later compiled a list like that of his own. “And that list is in here,” Lerude said, pointing to the biography.

Lerude identified Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, as well as Clark and Laxalt, as in his trio of top Nevada literary figures. He called Laxalt “the most acclaimed writer of modern times in Nevada.”

Lerude briefly covered well-known facts of Laxalt’s adult career that brought craftsmanship and literary fame: five years with United Press, authorship of 17 books, among them the classic “Sweet Promised Land” about Dominique’s and Robert’s trip to European Basque country, and work at the University of Nevada Press.

But Lerude’s talk focused just as much on the whole clan, particularly the “fiercely strong woman” who made Carson City the family’s home.


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