Author Oakley Hall leaves large legacy
Squaw Valley was a sleepy mountain retreat when author Oakley Hall made it his summer home in 1958. Fresh off the publication of “Warlock” ” a novel that took an honest and, at times, devastating look at the Wild West ” Hall found that things would change both for him and for the mountain valley he called home.
The Olympics landed at the ski resort in 1960, and by then Hall’s “Warlock” had become a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and made into a major movie. Now, 50 years later, the death of Hall this month at 87 years old is being mourned by the many who knew the author who built one of the West’s most respected writing conferences in Squaw Valley.
“In some ways it’s really shocking because guys like Oakley Hall you think are going to live forever,” said Robert Frohlich, a long-time North Tahoe resident and writer.
Then a young University of North Carolina graduate and an aspiring writer, Frohlich remembers Hall giving him a scholarship to attend the Squaw Valley Community of Writers workshops.
“He was a hero in my eyes,” said Frohlich. “He was really a leader, a voice.”
Hall wrote more than 20 books in his lifetime, among them “Downhill Racers” and “Separations.”
“Downhill Racers,” which also became a film, was the book most directly influenced by his life in Squaw Valley, but many other portions of his work were molded by his summer home, said daughter Sands Hall.
“Living in such a Western landscape no doubt influenced his writing,” she said.
Hall remembers her father’s brilliance, uncanny ability to retain information and how he doled out encouragement to those around him.
“He had perfected a wonderful sound that was like a ‘Hmm’ or a ‘Hum’ that made you feel that you had come up with such a novel idea that no one had ever thought of before,” Hall said. “It made you feel like a million bucks.”
Through his writing program at UC Irvine, Hall taught such literary heavyweights as Richard Ford, Michael Chabon and Amy Tan.
He was well known in Squaw Valley, where he often skied. Alice Calhoun remembers Hall walking into her market at the Village at Squaw Valley.
“He was a tremendous person” Calhoun said. “He was accessible. He was kind.”
Calhoun and many other North Tahoe and Truckee residents would attend public portions of the writers’ conference each summer and listen as famous authors such as Michael Chabon read from their published and unpublished works.
“I just so much admired him for having brought together such famous writers each year,” Calhoun said.
Hall founded the Squaw Valley Community of Writers in 1969, along with Blair Fuller, who was also a Squaw Valley resident and published author at the time.
“It was a very light-hearted beginning,” Fuller said from his home in Tomales. “It was Oakley and [his wife] Barbara’s idea really.”
“We didn’t know what we were getting into,” said Fuller, who left for Algeria soon after the workshop idea was hatched.
Unable to reach Squaw Valley by phone during his travels, the bulk of the workshop work fell to Hall.
“He was a very good teacher,” Fuller said.
Fuller remembers Hall as a good listener, “not an aggressive person” and someone with a unique charm.
“He was impressive in that he was very dedicated to his work,” said Fuller. “I think that a lot of people will miss him and will always think of him.”
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Jaime Alessio took this video of a bobcat wandering around Kings Beach in broad daylight.