Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI WRITERS: Nevada Barr


Nevada Barr Nevada Barr, Photo by Tommy Bennett

Major Works

  • Track of the Cat. 1993
  • Superior Death, 1994
  • Ill Wind,  1995 
  • Firestorm,  1996
  • Endangered Species,  1997
  • Blind Descent,  1998
  • Liberty Falling,  1999
  • Deep South, 2000
  • Blood Lure 2001
  • Hunting Season 2002
  • Flashback. Putnam, 2003
  • High Country. Putnam, 2004
  • Hard Truth. Putnam, 2005.
  • Winter Study (April 2008)
  • Seeking Enlightenment... Hat by Hat (non-fiction) 2003

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Nevada Barr: A Biography
by Kim McCluskey (SHS)

Nevada Barr was born in Yerinton, Nevada (as she says, "Hence the name") and grew up in Susanville, California, where here parents, Mary and Dave Barr,  ran a little airport.  Her mother and father  were both pilots as was her sister Molly, who was an  airline pilot for US Air (Rancourt).  Barr's mother, who was a mechanic, carpenter, and one of the first women to be featured in People Magazine , still owns a small ranch on the East side of the Sierras and on the edge of the Smoke Creek Desert (Eckels).  Her Aunt Peggy, who taught third grade in the New York City public schools,  and her grandmother, a "fighting Quaker Democrat and a globe trotting missionary," also love mystery and excitement just as Barr does (Rancourt).

As a teenager, Nevada learned to fly from her mother (Eckels).  She  attended college at Cal Polly, San Luis Obisbo.  Following college, Barr attended graduate school at the University of California at Irvine (MS Writers Page).  After graduate school, Barr spent eighteen years in acting (Rancourt).  While in New York she was a member of the Classic Stage Company and performed in many off-Broadway plays.  She also participated in corporate training films, television commercials, industrial films, radio voice-overs, and regional theater (Eckels).  After spending five years in New York,  Nevada Barr traveled to Minneapolis, and while there she did even more theater work.

Before she began writing full-time, she became a National Park Service Ranger.  Her former husband was a member of the National Park Service.  It was he who first raised her interest in wildlife conservation.  Her first job was a boat patrol at Isle Royale (Rancourt).  Her stay in many different parks serves as the settings for her mystery novels.  Nevada began earnestly writing in 1978.  Her motivation for writing was "a desire for women to do more to move along the plot more because all the women I knew were movers and doers."  Nevada's first historical book, Bittersweet, was completed in 1984 (Rancourt).  After her first book,  she decided to begin writing mystery novels.  She first checked out mystery books from the library and outlined several of the best.  The idea for her first mystery novel Track of the Cat, which was set in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas, came to her while she was hiking through the woods.  She thought about the multiple ways a person could die and about the ones she believed would be better off dead.  Nevada won the 1994 Agatha Award for best first novel of 1993 and the 1994 Anthony award for best novel of 1993. She has been awarded the Mississippi Library Association's Award for fiction.

Other mystery novels include A Superior Death, set in Isle Royale National Park;  Ill Wind,  set in Mesa Verde national Park; Firestorm, set in Lassen Volcanic National Park;  and Endangered Species,  set at Cumberland Island National Seashore (Rancourt).  In her mystery novels Nevada uses a character named Anna Pigeon.  There are several parallels between Nevada Barr and Anna Pigeon.  They are both (or have been) law enforcement officers in their forties, both have a sister named Molly, and both left the big city and went into the National Park Service (Rancourt).

The New York Times Book Review says "Ms. Barr's sternly beautiful style is best displayed in natural settings like her eerie underwater landscapes of sunken ships and corpses--where life makes itself scarce."  The Library Journal says Barr's books contain "spectacular descriptions, psychological insight, and a refreshingly independent heroine."  She says her main purpose for writing is to make people love the parks.

Bestselling author Nevada Barr of Clinton and husband Richard Jones, photo by Rick Guy, The Clarion Ledger

At the time of this writing, Nevada Barr was living with her husband in Clinton, MississippiBlind Descent, was published in 1998. Her  book Liberty Falling was published in February of 1999. Her newest  mystery is set on the Natchez Trace in Mississippi.  She says that living in Mississippi has made her writing "more spiritual and introduced Christianity to my world."  The book is entitled Deep South.

Since writing Deep South, Barr has resigned from the park service. She plans to continue writing from her home in Clinton, Mississippi, where she has lived for more than six years. (See Update below).

Biography of Nevada Barr
by Sherry Rowe (SHS)

Sherry Rowe (SHS)Nevada Barr is one of the many successful authors that was born, has  lived, or is now living in Mississippi. Although Barr, the author of several successful novels, was not born in Mississippi, she currently resides in the Natchez Trace Parkway area near Clinton, Mississippi.

Three strong, independent women greatly influenced Barr's writing, especially the character of Anna Pigeon (Rancourt 4). Her mother worked as a carpenter, mechanic, and pilot. Her Aunt Peggy taught third grade in a New York City public school, and her grandmother was a "fighting Quaker Democrat" ("Nevada Barr" 1) These woman apparently became the models for the leading character in Nevada Barr's novels.

Barr was born in Nevada in 1952 but soon relocated to Susanville, California where she spent the majority of her childhood ("Nevada Barr" 1). Nevada Barr graduated from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California in 1974 (Patterson). She then began work in the performing arts. She performed in many off-Broadway productions as part of the Classic Stage Company in New York City, New York. After five years, she began performing in commercials, industrial films, and theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota ("Nevada Barr" 1,2). Quickly, this all changed.

Soon, she fell in love and was married. Unfortunately, this marriage was brief. It was this man that sparked Barr's interest in nature and conservation ("Nevada Barr" 2). She followed her ex-husband from the theater to the park service. She began working in the National Park Service when she was thirty-six (Rancourt 3).

Barr has been a park ranger for many years. She has fought fires, climbed mountains, and broken up fights (Gifford). The many parks where she has worked, such as the Natchez Trace Parkway, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Isle Royale National Park, and Mesa Verde National Park, have become the settings for several of her novels ("Nevada Barr" 1). Barr continues to work as a park ranger but does not actually solve murders. Most of the time she writes tickets or saves visitors from themselves (Rancourt 4).

Barr began writing in 1978 when she was twenty-six years old (Rancourt 4). She published her first novel in 1984 ("Nevada Barr" 2). She has continually published successful novels since then. Nevada Barr is a distinguished author and has received several honorable awards. For instance, Ill Wind was nominated for the 1997 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. She was also honored by the liberal arts department of California Polytechnic State University in the 1997 homecoming activities (Patterson). Her most prestigious awards were for Track of the Cat which receive 1994's Agatha Award for Best First Novel of 1993 and the Anthony Award for best Novel of 1993. Nevada Barr is a very accomplished author.

Nevada Barr expresses her thoughts and feelings in her novels. For example, she relays her strong opinions about the National Park Service to her readers. This has angered several people on the National Park Service staff . The tension between seasonal and permanent employees, low pay and morale, red tape, and the politics of a large bureaucracy are several problems addressed in Barr's novels. Barr believes, "...the main purpose behind the novels is not to criticize, educate, nor facilitate change, but rather to entertain" (Rancourt 2).  Even this line of thinking does not quench the anger of the park service staff. 

earlier photo of Nevada Barr

All of Nevada Barr's novels center around Anna Pigeon, an independent, tough-talking, wine-drinking law enforcement park ranger. Anna Pigeon is the heroin in all of the following books. Barr's most successful novel to date, Track of the Cat, was set in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. In this book a park ranger is found mauled to death by a mountain lion but was actually murdered). Another novel, Ill Wind, is set in Mesa Verde National Park. This novel revolves around the death of a child and the murder of Anna Pigeon's friend. Another successful story, Superior Death, takes place in Isle Royal National Park. This novel is about a sunken ship in Lake superior. A more recent novel, Firestorm , is set in Lessen Volcanic National Park. In this novel, Anna Pigeon searches for a murderer after the body of a ranger is found after a mysterious fire. Another book, Endangered Species, is set in Cumberland Island National Seashore where a drug interdiction plane has crashed. Barr's newest novel, Blind Descent, takes place in Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. These novels are excellent examples of Barr's wonderful writing skills.

2008 BIOGRAPHICAL UPDATE: Nevada Barr taught a fiction writing class at Mississippi College. Nevada Barr will publish Anna Pidgeon's newest mystery called Winter Study, (set on Isle Royale in the dark days of January when the island is inhabited only by the wolves, the moose, and theWinter Study by Nevada Barr researchers who are there to study them) in April of 2008. In all, Nevada Barr has published thirteen Anna Pidgeon mystery novels. Winter Study will be the fourteenth. She began painting in 1996 and is now also a full-time artist who has moved from Jackson, Mississippi, to New Orleans with her husband, three dogs and four cats. She paints using the name Paxton.

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A Review of Endangered Species
by Kim McCluskey (SHS)

Endangered Species by Nevada Barr is about a plane crash that happens on Cumberland Island National Seashore off the coast of Georgia.  Anna Pigeon, the main character and a park ranger,  is on fire detail in the park at the time of the crash.  Anna, along with other crew members, is quickly called to action following the crash.

The  pilot killed in the crash patrolled drug trafficking from the air while his passengerEndangered Species by Nevada Barr had been  the island's only law enforcement official.  Anna decides to do a bit of searching on her own to decide what the real reason for the plane crash was.  Todd, one of the men killed in the plane crash,  left behind a pregnant wife named Tabby.  Tabby is  being stalked by a man named Slattery.  She had feared for her life and the life of her husband.  Slattery  threatened to kill Tabby's  baby if she didn't do what he said.  For this reason,  Tabby placed plastic bags in the fuel lines of the airplane.  She assumed that plastic would stop up an engine just as it does a garbage disposal.  She purposefully sabotaged the aircraft not knowing that her husband would later  become a passenger in the flight.    However, Anna later concludes that there is no possible way Tabby's bags could have caused the plane to have crashed.  Marty Schlesinger, another character, is also a suspect.  To discover what really happened and who really did it, you will need to read the book.  One critic says, "Endangered Species is a fabulous book because of Anna, an interesting who-done-it, and beautiful scenery off the Georgia coast," (Klausner).

A Review of Endangered Species
by Sherry Rowe (SHS)

Nevada Barr's Endangered Species is an intriguing mystery set in a wildlife park off the coast of Georgia. The protagonist, Anna Pigeon, is on fire watch on an island when a plane mysteriously crashed killing two men. The aircraft was obviously sabotaged, and Anna is determined to catch the murderer. She soon finds herself involved in an entanglement of drugs, embezzlement, and obsessive stalking. Finally, Anna solves the mystery and nabs the killer before he can take her life too.

Nevada Barr paints the portrait of an independent and intelligent woman through the main character Anna Pigeon. Anna lives the life of a park ranger that tends to stumble into murderous, and dangerous situations quite often. Although she may require a modicum of help, Anna is always able to find a solution to her predicament and find the evil perpetrator of murder. This character is life-like in numerous ways. She does suffer from bruises and broken bones and is decidedly not super-human. She still feels emotion as would any person: grief caused by death, loneliness from isolation, irritation at people's quirks, and embarrassment in "sticky" moments. She has real problems such as a difficult long distance relationship and disagreements with coworkers. Barr is excellent at making the main character come alive.

Barr's choice of setting adds an interesting twist to her novels. The majority of mystery writers choose rather generic settings, such as a small town or a large city, but Barr chooses national parks. This particular book Endangered Species takes place in Cumberland Island National Seashore. Barr has worked as a ranger herself in many of the settings she has chosen for her books. Because of her familiarity with the parks, Barr draws a vivid image of the area using words which  make  the surroundings come alive and draw  the reader into Anna Pigeon's world.

Nevada Barr has written yet another wonderful murder mystery that entices the reader to continue turning the pages late into the night.

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An E-mail Interview with  Nevada Barr
by Kim McCluskey (SHS)

1.    When and where were you born?
    I was born in Yerington, Nevada (hence the name).Kim McCluskey, SHS researcher. Photo by Jacobs

2.    What were your parents' names?
    My parents ran a little mountain airport in Susanville, California.  They were named Mary and Dave Barr.

3.    Who is your favorite author?
    I have lots of favorite authors but my all time favorites are Jane Austin and Charles Dickens.

4.    Are you working on a book right now?
    I am working on a mystery set on the Natchez Trace right now.

5.    What is your favorite book?
    I have too many favorite books to list, but one of them is The Princess Bride  by William Goldman.

6.    If you could select one thing to change about the course of your life what would it be?
    If I could change one thing about the course of my life, I wouldn't have done drugs in college.

7.    Do you have a famous quote or inspiration you would like to share?
    One of my favorite quotes is from General George Patton:  "Success is defined by how high you bounce when you hit bottom."

8.    How has living in Mississippi influenced your writing?
    Living in Mississippi has made my writing more spiritual and introduced Christianity to my world.

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Related Websites

Nevada Barr's own official web page.  It's a marvelous site with photos, info, audio and more.

Nevada Barr's page for her art under the name Mrs. Paxton.

Nevada Barr Resource Page contains information about Nevada Barr, her books, and national park sites in Barr's books.

A biography of Nevada Barr by Ole Miss Writers Page is found here.

Jackson Free Press interviews Nevada Barr.

Book Browse biography of Barr.

Publisher Penquin Putnam's web page contains interview with Nevada Barr.

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Bibliography

Bibliography for Work of Kim McCluskey

Barr, Nevada Holds Out! M. A. Eckels, Editor.   http://members.tripod.com/~MindHarp/nbmg

Barr, Nevada.  Interview by Kim McCluskey November 22, 1998.

Barr, Nevada.  (1997).  Endangered Species. New York:  Putnam.

Barr, Nevada, Autograph.  http://home.eartglink.net/~criswell/authors/agraphs/barr

Feminist Mystery Corner.  http://www.feminist.org/arts/mys_Barr

Mississippi Writers Page.  http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/barr_nevada/

Rancourt, Linda.  Murder, She Writes.  http://www.cpca.org/np/95-09/feature.htm.

Bibliography for Sherry Rowe's work

Galvin, John. "Books: Dead Men Don't Wear Drab." [Online] Available at http://outside.starwave.com/magazine/0496/9604dibo.html, April 1996.

Gifford, Thomas. "Barr's 'Cat' bags the essence of mystery intrigue." USA Today. February 26, 1993.

"Nevada Barr." [Online] Available at http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms- writers/dir/barr_nevada/. March 1998.

Patterson, J.C. "Park it here." The Clarion-Ledger. April 13, 1997.

Rancourt, Linda. "Murder, She Writes." [Online] Available at http://www.npca.org/np/95- 09/feature.htm. September 20, 1995.

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First written November 2001, Updated January 2008
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