Wallace Stegner is our wise elder, still. His writing can guide us in a century he never saw, helping to rebuild both community and relationship. The centennial celebration of his birth gives us a chance to return to his strong words that mirror our home landscape and community.
Wallace Stegner wrote about virtually all of Utah’s landscapes and stories in one or another of his books. His descriptions span the Twentieth Century, and I can think of no other writer whose work traverses so much Utah geography and history.
I’m a Stegner Fellow at the Tanner Center for the Humanities at the University of Utah during the 2008-2009 academic year. I’ll be taking Stegner’s writing with me on the road across Utah, bringing his words home to the places where they started.
In school and community programs, I’ll offer those excerpts from Stegner to the people who live in the locations he so insightfully memorialized in print. And I’ll ask citizens to respond in their own words. In this way, I’ll reintroduce Wallace Stegner’s work to readers, and I’ll be able to use his ideas to stimulate community dialogue.
I’ll take “Glen Canyon Submersus” to Big Water. I’ll take his stories of the beloved resident characters of Fruita in American Places to Torrey. I’ll take his Everett Ruess chapter in Mormon Country to Escalante; his affectionate remembrance of Mormon ward basketball in “At Home in the Fields of the Lord” to an Avenues wardhouse; Beyond the Hundredth Meridian to Vernal and Moab; The Big Rock Candy Mountain to Marysvale; The Uneasy Chair to Ogden, de Voto’s birthplace; and The Gathering of Zion to This is the Place State Park. The possibilities are nearly endless.
I’ll be responding to these excerpts myself, in words and photographs. This rich mix of writing and photography—ranging from Stegner himself, to my commentaries, to contemporary riffs on the same subjects by Utah citizens—gives us materials for this ongoing blog, for public programs, for regular presentations at the U, and for a book celebrating not just Stegner but our interaction with his work as a living legacy.
Wallace Stegner wasn’t just a literary writer. He was an activist writer. But his activism is rooted in affection. Stegner was prescient and eloquent and wry, but he could never truly be cynical. His love for the country and his respect for the people who had constructed lives around their relationship with that country prohibited contempt.
This warmth that lies at the heart of his work can lead to civil dialogue in rural Utah. Stegner would love seeing his ideas pondered by county commissioners and waitresses and ranching families.
I’m so looking forward to this conversation.