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Larry Woiwode, Who Wrote of Family, Faith and Rural Life, Dies at 80

Farming is a high-risk life. Mr. Woiwode was 63 when his jacket was caught in the draft shaft of a hay baler, breaking three ribs, compressing his spine and nearly severing his right arm. As a teenager, his son, Joseph, was trampled by a horse and spent days in a coma; when he recovered, motor skills still shaky, he nearly lost his fingers to a mower.

Setting fire to the weeds jamming a tractor one day, Mr. Woiwode nearly immolated himself and Joseph, then a toddler strapped to the seat with a cowboy belt. During a cataclysmic blizzard one winter, it was so cold for so long that Mr. Woiwode had to fuel his balky wood-burning furnace with the dead chickens that had frozen in their coop.

But the place also nurtured the family, and Mr. Woiwode’s work.

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“There’s a stagy thump that the virgin soil has here over unshaded ground, so unlike cultivated land,” he wrote, “and in the surrounding painter’s colors, in light undimmed by pollution, you can suffer the sensation of being on a sound stage. For a second you see the entire panorama as being constructed to contain you in its scene.”

The Woiwodes practiced the Presbyterian faith they had turned to when their marriage was rocky, and Mr. Woiwode, who had been raised Roman Catholic, wrote often of his chosen faith and the land and the biblical stories that sustained and shaped it. This made him an anomaly in literary circles, as well as at the liberal arts institutions where he taught for decades.

“Most of life seems to me a religious experience,” Mr. Woiwode told The New York Times in 1988. ‘“I mean, I guess it either is or it isn’t, and for me it is.”

Larry Alfred Woiwode was born on Oct. 30, 1941, in Carrington, N.D. His father, Everett, was a teacher and high school principal; his mother, Audrey (Johnston) Woiwode, a homemaker, died when Larry was 9. He grew up in Sykeston, N.D., and then in Mason County, Ill.

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