Jack Adolph Nelson, the son of a Norwegian immigrant, grew up in Bellflower, Southern California. He attended Fullerton Junior College, then while at Brigham Young University in Utah, he fell in love with the wild places of that state, where he stayed to write, hunt, and fish. Nelson graduated from BYU in 1954 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. He received a master's degree in English from the University of Utah in 1964, and receieved a PhD in journalism from the University of Missouri in 1971.
He then worked as a city desk reporter on the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, edited a weekly in California, and returned to BYU as a television-radio writer for their PBS affiliate station KBYU-TV. He quit that job to spend three months in Mexico City to write his first novel, which was never published. Following his sabbatical in Mexico, Nelson returned to Utah to marry Patrice, the gorgeous coed he had been courting for a year. He then taught at California State-Humboldt and the University of Utah, before ending up back at BYU teaching journalism in the Communications Department for twenty-five years.
After retiring from BYU, Nelson built a career as a historical fiction novelist, with many of his novels set in the Utah landscape he came to love. In 2009, he released his book To Die in Kanab. In 2011, Nelson was recognized for his excellent writing with the third place International Book Award in the Non-Fiction Narrative category for his work, Flashes in the Night: The Sinking of the Estonia. The book relates the stories of the survivors of the Estonia, an overnight ferry, which sunk in a storm on the Baltic Sea in 1944.
Nelson passed away on August 14, 2015, at the age of eighty-five.
- BYU Magazine - Sinking in the Night (Winter 2012)
- The Daily Universe - Emeritus professor honored for sunken-ship tale (12 Sept 2011)
- The Daily Herald - Book Buzz: 'To Die in Kanab' (18 June 2009)