A. B. Guthrie, Jr. was born in Bedford, Indiana, and moved with his parents to Montana when he was six months old. His father was a graduate of Indiana University, his mother from a Earlham College at Richmond, Indiana. "My father came West to become the first principal of the first high school in [the Montana territory]," he said.
Nine Guthrie children were born, but most of them died as infants. A.B. was a sickly child and the Guthries moved their children to Ontario, California, for their health. Two months later their 13-year-old daughter died from a tick bite and the Guthries moved back to Montana. There, some months later, their youngest son also died. Only three of the nine children survived to adulthood.
A constant reader, Guthrie tried to write while in high school, "fiction pretty much, some essays, but I majored in journalism. My father had been a newspaper man for four years in this little town in Kentucky, and I guess he thought it was the way to become a writer," a point his son disputed because the crafts are so different.
Guthrie won the Neiman Fellowship at Harvard, while working as the executive editor of the Lexington Leader in Kentucky. While there he made friends with Theordore Morrison, an English professor, "who knew so much about writing, probably more than I ever will. And somehow, he took me under his wing. With patience and guidance and always deliberation, he taught me the language of fiction."
After working 22 years as a news reporter and editor for the Lexington Leader, Guthrie wrote his first novel. In 1944 he had been attempting to write the story of the mountain men. "It wasn't until I went to Harvard that I got in gear. Then I went back and worked for the newspaper for another year or so." Guthrie's boss was very understanding and as long as the budding novelist kept his newsroom work "up to snuff," he was allowed to take his afternoons off to write fiction. He was able to quit his reporting job following the publication of Big Sky and The Way West, for which he won a Pultizer. Guthrie then returned to Choteau, Montana, because he said it was his "point of outlook on the universe." (Excerpted from Jean Henry-Mead's interview with Guthrie at his home for her book, Maverick Writers (ISBN 0-87004-331-5), pages 1-8;later reprinted in Westerners (ISBN 1-931415-05-6), pages 103-115.
His novels included, Murders at Moon Dance which was published in 1943. The Big Sky appeared in 1947, with a young person's edition in 1950. The Way West, a novel about the journey of American expansion in the old west, appeared in 1949. Guthrie continued to write predominantly western subjects, including the Academy Award-nominated script to the landmark film Shane in 1953 and the novel These Thousand Hills in 1956. In 1960, he published his first collection of short stories, The Big It and Other Stories.