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Ohio Wesleyan University Professor Publishes Novel ‘Coal Black Horse’ to Widespread Critical Acclaim


March 19, 2007

“Robert Olmstead’s fable COAL BLACK HORSE is deft, moving, intensely readable, and just about tone perfect.” — Richard Ford

“[An] austere, elegiac fairy tale… . Olmstead juxtaposes scenes of man-made desolation with quietly lyrical depictions of the landscape and the animals that inhabit it… . Powerful and poetic.”— Kirkus Reviews, starred review

When Robert Olmstead published his debut book, “River Dogs,” in 1987, he was compared to such masters as Richard Ford, Raymond Carver, and Thomas McGuane.

Since that time, Olmstead, an associate professor of English at Ohio Wesleyan University, has received high praise for all five of his books. The Washington Post wrote, “Many writers, finding themselves suddenly blessed with Olmstead’s gifts, would think they had died and gone to heaven”; the Chicago Tribune deemed his writing “brilliant and compelling”; The New York Times raved that he has “the skill for lending every present moment an extraordinary sensuous glow”; and Tobias Wolff described him as “an original in the American grain … [who] has fashioned a fresh and vital language.”

But it’s Olmstead’s sixth book, “Coal Black Horse” (pub. date: April 10, 2007; Algonquin Books), that is destined to become a classic. In the tradition of “The Red Badge of Courage,” “Coal Black Horse” is a powerful story of war and adolescence. At 14 years old, Robey Childs is sent off by his mother into the Civil War battlefields with instructions to find and bring home his father. He wears a special coat his mother has sewn for him: blue on one side, gray on the other. Soon into his journey, his horse falters and limps and cannot continue on.

When Robey is given the gift of a coal black horse, he gains a strong and brave companion who becomes his guide and protector. As they make their way through battlegrounds and gore and violence, Robey never loses faith that that his father can be found alive and returned home, no matter how violently unrecognizable the world around him has become.

Gritty, moving, and written with tremendous power, “Coal Black Horse” is a masterfully told story about one boy’s journey into manhood.

Robert Olmstead is the author of five previous books: “River Dogs,” “Soft Water,” “A Trail of Heart’s Blood Wherever We Go,” “America by Land,” and “Stay Here with Me.” The recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, Olmstead joined the Ohio Wesleyan faculty in 2002.