Bio

The primary focus of my writing and documentary work is the American scene. For years, beginning at age 17 when I ran away from home, I have continued to travel America’s backwaters, searching for iconic American figures and regional folkways. In my search to know America, I have hitchhiked and ridden freight trains, lived in ten states and worked a multitude of jobs. I lived and worked on a ranch, taught philosophy and college composition, wrote a weekly column and features for the Chicago Tribune, taught G.E.D. classes at the New Mexico State Penitentiary, did office temp work, taught biology in a Brooklyn inner-city school, clerked in a big box store, and more.

In 1990, with the help of Steven Meinbresse, I established Free River Press, a nonprofit publishing house whose primary purpose is to gather people without literary ambition into writing workshops to document their lives. In the 28 years since its inception, Free River Press has published 27 titles. The press’s workshops and publications have been featured on CBS News Sunday Morning, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition, and in virtually every major daily newspaper in the country.

In 1999 Oxford University Press issued An American Mosaic: Prose and Poetry by Everyday Folk, a sampling of Free River Press writings. My other books include Jump Start: How to Write from Everyday Life (Oxford), The Triumph of Technique: The Industrialization of Agriculture and the Destruction of Rural America (Ruskin Press), and The Writer Within: A Complete and Enjoyable Guide to Writing from Everyday Life (Ruskin Press).

My magazine credits include North American Review, Down Beat, Inland Architect, and Sculpture Magazine.

In 2010, I began production on a weekly, half-hour program, “American Mosaic with Robert Wolf,” which is distributed nationally by the Pacifica Network. Most of the stories recorded for “American Mosaic” are taken from Free River Press books and read by their authors.

In 1994, I wrote a six-part series for Iowa Public Radio, “On Developing Regional Rural Economies,” which won the Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for the Best Radio Editorial of 1994.

From 1979 to 1980, I was playwright-in-residence for the San Quentin Drama Workshop in Chicago. In 1980, I joined the staff of Chicago’s legendary Organic Theater Company under Stuart Gordon. During my time at the Organic I co-wrote The Special Prosecutor. My 1998 play, Heartland Portrait, was commissioned by Minnesota’s Commonweal Theater Company. Subsequently, I have written two plays for voices, Driftless Dreams and Ragnarok: The Doom of the Gods, which have had regional Midwest productions.