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Earth Notes

Earth Notes: Author Wallace Stegner’s Western Sensibilities

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Among well-known western writers, the name Wallace Stegner ranks right at the top. He grew up western, and consistently and eloquently captured the region’s sense of place.   

Stegner wrote more than thirty novels, short story collections, and nonfiction works. His book Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, about Major John Wesley Powell, is required reading for any student of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau. In it and other writings, the region’s defining feature— its aridity—was an overarching theme. 

Wallace Stegner was no stranger to a transient life. Born in 1909 in Iowa, he was son to a father who headed west and roamed from one promising scheme to another. During high school and college years in Salt Lake City, Wally came to appreciate the Mormons’ tight-knit communities; during summers in southern Utah he first discovered wilderness.

As an adult, Stegner taught at colleges in the Midwest and New England. But homesickness for the West finally brought him and his wife Mary to California, to Stanford University, where he founded the creative writing program. Meanwhile, his own writing career was soaring and continued almost six more decades.   

Always excited by the West’s distances and immensity, Stegner the conservationist felt compelled to defend its national parks and wild places.

In one essay he wrote, “the West is hope’s native home.” And it was his home, until his death in 1993.

Wallace Stegner’s words and musings still hold meaning for a new generation of writers and readers looking for that hope. 

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