The Actor

Format: Cloth hardcover with dust jacket
ISBN-13: 978-1-60639-088-7
Author: Beth Hunter McHugh
Pages: 232

The Actor

Beth Hunter McHugh

Beth McHugh’s brilliant debut novel takes place in the late 1960s in a Montana university town, and it revolves around thirteen-year-old Grace, her younger sister Franny, their beautiful mother, their beloved father—and a secret that must be confronted. Perceptive and elegantly understated, The Actor examines the divide between secrecy and truth and what it means to grow up on such a precipice.

McHugh received a MFA from the University of Montana and teaches high school English in Montana. The Actor was the runaway winner for the inaugural Meadowlark Award.

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Winner, Best First Book, High Plains Book Award

Finalist, Best Woman Writer, High Plains Book Awards


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Congratulations, Beth! Winner of the Best First Book Award from the 2016 High Plains Book Awards!

The Actor was chosen over entries from HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster!

High Plains Book Award

The Actor wins second book award

Beth Hunter McHugh’s debut novel, “The Actor,” won the Best First Book award at the recently concluded 2016 High Plains Book Awards in Billings, Montana.

The High Plains award is the second win for “The Actor.” It previously won the Meadowlark Award for women writers from Riverbend Publishing in Helena, Montana. Riverbend published the book as part of the award.

McHugh graduated from Helena High School in 2002. She earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Montana and currently teaches English at Hamilton High School.

In the Best First Book category, “The Actor” competed against “The Bookseller” by Cynthia Swanson, published by HarperCollins, and “The Wild Inside” by Christine Carbo, published by Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. “The Actor” was also a finalist in the award category of Best Woman Writer.

More than 160 books were nominated for this year’s book awards. The finalist books were judged by veteran writers, many of whom are previous winners or finalists.

The Billings Public Library Board established the High Plains Book Awards in 2006 to recognize regional authors and/or literary works that examine and reflect life on the High Plains, including the states of Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Winners in each category received a $500 prize. The awards were open to books that were published in 2015.

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Winner of the 2015 Meadowlark Award

Press Release

Montana debut novel wins award and praise

An award-winning debut novel by a Montana author has received high praise from two of the state’s premier novelists.

Deidre McNamer and Debra Magpie Earling are enthusiastic about Beth Hunter McHugh’s novel, “The Actor,” which won the inaugural Meadowlark Award from Riverbend Publishing of Helena.

Earling, author of “Perma Red,” called “The Actor” a “grand literary debut” in the vein of Kent Haruf and Ivan Doig.

McNamer, author of “Red Rover” and “Rima in the Weeds,” said the book was “breathtaking in its elegance, precision and beauty.”

“The Actor” traces the lives of two teenaged sisters and their parents in the 1960s in a Montana university town. The family has a secret that must be confronted, and the novel examines the divide between secrecy and truth and what it means to grow up on such a precipice.

McHugh, 31, was raised in Helena and is a graduate of the University of Montana where she earned an M.F.A in Creative Writing, McHugh’s fiction has appeared in literary magazines, but “The Actor” is her first book.

“I’ve been working on this book for a long time,” McHugh said. “It’s a story close to my heart.”

“Her novel is captivating,” said Riverbend publisher Chris Cauble. “We had nearly fifty entries for the Meadowlark Award, but Beth’s quality of writing, her strong characters, and her novel’s narrative force were clearly superior.”

The hardcover book sells for $23 and is available at local bookstores and other book outlets.


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Praise for The Actor

The Actor is breathtaking in its elegance, precision and beauty. It is a multi-layered love story, and it cracks your heart; it opens your eyes. Beth McHugh is a wizard of perception. She has fashioned a fine, true thing. Read this book, please.”

—Deirdre McNamer, author of Red Rover, My Russian, and Rima in the Weeds

“I have not read a book that has so deeply affected me in a long, long time. I fell in love with this novel and the wise young narrator Grace. (Ok, I fell in love with all of the characters and the expansive Montana landscape too.) The Actor is a dream of a read. I sighed. I cried. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I admire it. I envy it. I gaped open-mouthed at its wisdom and beauty! McHugh is the literary heir to Kent Haruf and Ivan Doig. A grand literary debut!”

—Debra Magpie Earling, author of Perma Red

Finalist in the High Plains Book Awards!


The Write Question


Rooting for a promising first Montana novel - Last Best News

Slow burn: The Actor captures coming-of-age in 1970s Montana - Missoula Independent


In the summer of 1967, life seems almost dangerously idyllic to thirteen-year-old Grace Birch and her eleven-year-old sister Franny. Their mother is Nora, a beautiful and educated woman who writes haunted love poems when she isn’t working as a law professor at the local university. Their father is David, an actor turned drama professor. As the children of independent, bohemian parents, Grace and Franny spend their days entertaining themselves and their evenings observing the delicate dance that is their parents’ relationship. David’s dedication to his craft makes him magnetic to his students, but challenges his devotion to his two young daughters and his wife.

When Ivan, a young actor, comes to stay with the family, Nora and David’s relationship faces its greatest test. David falls in love with Ivan, and Grace and Franny realize that their parents’ relationship holds an ancient and long-buried secret. Eventually, David leaves his family to follow Ivan to New York, and Nora moves with her young daughters to a run-down farm house on the outskirts of town. There, Grace and Franny befriend Susan, the daughter of Jack Leroy, a man with close but mysterious ties to their mother’s past. In the new home, Grace and Franny work to slowly reconcile their past life with their present as they grapple with their own adolescence and a mother who is slowly reinventing herself.

About the Author

Beth Hunter McHuge

Beth McHugh was raised in Helena, Montana, and is a graduate of the University of Montana where she earned a B.A. in English (2006), an M.F.A in Creative Writing (2009), and an M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction (2015). She taught writing at Bitterroot College and currently teaches English at Hamilton High School. Her work has appeared in literary magazines, including Orange Quarterly and Writing Tomorrow. The Actor is her first book.

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