"Most things break, including hearts. The lessons of life amount not to wisdom, but to scar tissue and callus." -- Wallace Stegner
Wallace Earle Stegner (February 18, 1909 – April 13, 1993) 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.
Stegner was born in Lake Mills, Iowa, and grew up in Great Falls, Montana, Salt Lake City, Utah, and southern Saskatchewan, which he wrote about in his autobiography Wolf Willow. Stegner says he "lived in twenty places in eight states and Canada". While living in Utah, he joined a Boy Scout troop at a Mormon church (although he himself was a Presbyterian) and earned the Eagle Scout award. He received a B.A. at the University of Utah in 1930. He also studied at the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he received a master's degree in 1932 and a doctorate in 1935.
"In 1934, Stegner married Mary Stuart Page. For 59 years they shared a 'personal literary partnership of singular facility,' wrote Arthur Schlesinger Jr.", reports a short biography on the San Francisco Public Library Web site by James Hepworth.
A son, Page Stegner, is a nature writer and professor emeritus at University of California, Santa Cruz. Page is married to Lynn Stegner, a novelist. Page edited the 2008 Collected Letters of Wallace Stegner.
Stegner died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on April 13, 1993, from injuries suffered in an automobile accident on March 28, 1993.
Stegner taught at the University of Wisconsin and Harvard University. Eventually he settled at Stanford University, where he founded the creative writing program. His students included Sandra Day O'Connor, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Simin Daneshvar, George V. Higgins, Thomas McGuane, Robert Stone, Ken Kesey, Gordon Lish, Ernest Gaines, and Larry McMurtry. He served as a special assistant to Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall and was elected to the Sierra Club's board of directors for a term that lasted 1964–1966. He also moved into a house in nearby Los Altos Hills and became one of the town's most prominent residents.
Stegner's novel Angle of Repose won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972, and was directly based on the letters of Mary Hallock Foote (later published as the memoir A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West). Stegner's use of uncredited passages taken directly from Foote's letters caused a continuing controversy. Stegner also won the National Book Award for The Spectator Bird in 1977. In the late 1980s, he refused a National Medal from the National Endowment for the Arts because he believed the NEA had become too politicized.
Stegner's non-fiction works include Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (1954), a biography of John Wesley Powell, who was the first man to explore the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and later served as a government scientist and advocate of water conservation in the American West. Stegner wrote the forward and edited "This Is Dinosaur," with photographs by Philip Hyde, a Sierra Club book that was used in the campaign to prevent dams in Dinosaur National Monument and helped launch the modern environmental movement. A substantial number of his works are set in and around Greensboro, Vermont, where he lived part-time. Some of his character representations (particularly in Second Growth) were sufficiently unflattering that residents took offense, and he did not visit Greensboro for several years after its publication.
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Stegner's birth, Timothy Egan reflected in The New York Times on the writer's legacy, including his perhaps troubled relationship with the newspaper itself. Over 100 readers including Jane Smiley offered comments on the subject..
One commenter to The Times, Stephen Trimble, a 2008—2009 Wallace Stegner Fellow at the University of Utah's Tanner Humanities Center, drew attention to the broader Utah birthday tribute to Stegner through leading conversations about Stegner’s work in communities across Utah. Gov. Jon Huntsman's declaration of February 18, 2009 as Wallace Stegner Day highlighted Stegner as "one of Utah's most prominent citizens...a legendary voice for Utah and the West as an author, educator, and conservationist...[who was] raised and educated in Salt Lake City and [at] the University of Utah, [and] possess[ed] a lifelong love of Utah’s landscapes, people, and culture." See more on the Utah centennial tributes at www.stegner100.com.
The Stegner Fellowship program at Stanford University is a two-year creative writing fellowship. The house Stegner lived in from ages 7 to 12 in Eastend, Saskatchewan, Canada was restored by the Eastend Arts Council in 1990 and established as a Residence for Artists. In 2003, indie rock trio Mambo Sons released the Stegner-influenced song "Little Live Thing / Cross to Safety" written by Scott Lawson and Tom Guerra, which resulted in an invitation for Lawson to serve as Artist-in-Residency for March 2009.
The Big Rock Candy Mountain (autobiographical) (1943)
Second Growth (1947)
The Preacher And the Slave aka Joe Hill: A Biographical Novel (1950)
A Shooting Star (1961)
All the Little Live Things (1967)
Angle of Repose (1971) - Pulitzer Prize
The Spectator Bird (1976) - National Book Award
Crossing to Safety (1987)
The Women On the Wall (1950)
The City of the Living: And Other Stories (1957)
Writer's Art: A Collection of Short Stories (1972)
The American West as Living Space (1987)
Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner (1990)
Late Harvest: Rural American Writing (1996) (with Bobbie Ann Mason)
Genesis: A Story from Wolf Willow (1994)
Mormon Country (1942)
One Nation (Stegner and the editors of Look magazine) (1945), Houghton Mifflin
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (1954)
Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier (autobiography) (1955)
Wilderness Letter (1960), "helped win passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964," per Utah Gov. Huntsman in 2009. See also Timeline of environmental events. Full text of letter at The Wilderness Society Web site. Retrieved 2-24-09.
The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail (1964)
Teaching the Short Story (1966)
The Sound of Mountain Water (1969)
Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil (1971)
Writer in America (1982)
Conversations With Wallace Stegner on Western History and Literature (1983)
This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers (1985)
American Places (1985)
On the Teaching of Creative Writing (1988)
The Uneasy Chair: A Biography of Bernard Devoto (1989)
Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs, 'Living and writing in the west', (autobiographical) (1992)
1945 Houghton-Mifflin Life-in-America Award and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for One Nation
1950-1951 Rockefeller fellowship to teach writers in the Far East
1953 Wenner-Gren Foundation grant
1956 Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences fellowship
1967 Commonwealth Club Medal for All the Little Live Things
1972 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Angle of Repose
1976 Commonwealth Club Medal for The Spectator Bird
1977 National Book Award for The Spectator Bird
1980 Los Angeles Times Kirsch award for lifetime achievement
1990 Center USA West award for his body of work
1991 California Arts Council award for his body of work
1992 National Endowment for the Arts (refused)
Plus: Three O. Henry Awards, twice a Guggenheim Fellow (1949 and 1959), Senior Fellow of the National Institute of Humanities, member of National Institute and American Academy of Arts and Letters, member National Academy of Arts and Sciences.
The Encyclopedia of World Biography reports that the Little Brown prize was for "$2500, which at that time was a fortune. The book became a literary and financial success and helped gain Stegner [the] position ... at Harvard."