Novelist Kent Haruf died Sunday at the age of 71. Haruf was born the son of a Methodist minister in Pueblo, Colorado, and lived a number of places. But he continually returned to his home state, both in his life and in his work.

Most of Haruf’s novels are set in a fictional town called Holt, located in the plains of Colorado. Holt is believed to be a composite of several Colorado towns where Haruf had resided, including Yuma, Colorado. Over the course of several novels, Haruf carved a place for Holt on the map of American literature.

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In addition to being the author of six novels, Haruf collaborated with photographer Peter Brown on West Of Last Chance, a visual/prose hybrid that describes life in the central High Plains of the United States. The two earned the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize from Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies for the project. He spent more than three decades as a teacher of English and writing, including a stint with the Peace Corps in Turkey.

Haruf’s first book was published in 1986, but it wasn’t until his third, 1999’s Plainsong, that he began to receive enough compensation to leave teaching behind for good. It was also around this time that he began to receive comparisons to another writer who’d made a name for himself writing about life in the plains: Cormac McCarthy. Plainsong, a 1999 National Book Award finalist, received an official sequel in 2004, with Eventide. Haruf followed that with 2013’s Benediction.

As recently as last year the author is quoted as saying, “Writing is the hardest thing I know, but it was the only thing I wanted to do. I wrote for 20 years and published nothing before my first book.” Kent Haruf’s final novel, Our Souls At Night, is in the editing phase and is currently scheduled for a 2015 release.

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