Saturday, February 18, 2012

the dean of western writers





Wallace Stegner was born on February 18, 1909 in Lake Mills, Iowa.
He was an American historian,novelist, short story writer, and environmentalist,
often called "The Dean of Western Writers". He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972.

"In fiction I think we should have no agenda but to tell the truth."

"'You don't go there to find something,' he once said about wilderness, 'you go there to disappear.'"



Wallace Stegner wrote about the need to preserve the West, and he also fought for it. He became involved with the conservation movement in the 1950's while fighting the construction of dam on the Green River at Dinosaur National Monument. In 1960 he wrote his famous Wilderness Letter on the importance of federal protection of wild places. This letter was used to introduce the bill that established the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964. 

"Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste. And so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the other animals, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it. Without any remaining wilderness we are committed wholly, without chance for even momentary reflection and rest, to a headlong drive into our technological termite-life, the Brave New World of a completely man-controlled environment. We need wilderness preserved--as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds--because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there--important, that is, simply as an idea."



In 1964 Stegner started the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University, where he served on the faculty until 1971. He also taught at University of Utah, University of Wisconsin, and Harvard University. His students include: Wendell Berry, Larry McMurtry, Thomas McGuane, Ernest Gaines, John Daniel, Raymond Carver, Edward Abbey, and Poet Laureate of the United States, Robert Haas.

He wrote in The Sound of Mountain Water, "We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be…a part of the geography of hope,"

Mr. Stegner died at 84, on April 13, 1993 following an auto accident in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He left a legacy as writer, professor, and environmentalist that once moved Edward Abbey to pronounce him "the only living American writer worthy of the Nobel." Indeed, Stegner was one of the American West's preeminent historians and arguably the most important of its novelists.




commentary by
James Hepworth and



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