Join the conversation! Respond to Stegner and to me with your own contemporary responses. If anything in my blog or in Stegner’s work triggers a memory of your own, if any of Stegner’s pronouncements about your home landscapes and culture moves you or riles you, I’d love to hear from you. Write something of your reactions.
Are you, too, hoping we create a “society to match our scenery?” Are you feeling hopeless about our chances, or do you still believe in “the geography of hope?” Have you seen your favorite landscapes change in your lifetime? Was the change for the better? Or do you mourn what we’ve lost? Write a brief comment or a full-blown essay and share it.
Do you have your own recollections of a simpler and more peaceful Utah? Of old-timers in out of the way places? I’d love to hear those stories. We all would. Send them to me by mail or e-mail. Post them as a comment of any length at the bottom of this page. Record your stories or your grandmother’s stories and send me a tape. I’ll be happy to receive your responses in any form, any media.
I’ll be gathering these pieces of writing from citizens around the state over the coming months, creating a statewide conversation about Wallace Stegner’s work—and his home state—at the beginning of the 21st Century. This give and take between Stegner and all of you eventually, surely, will become a book.
Here is a brief guide to Stegner’s writing about Utah, along with contact info for me:
WALLACE STEGNER @ 100: An intro to Stegner’s Utah
The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943)
Stegner’s first big autobiographical novel. In creating the “Masons,” he retells the Stegners’ own frontier life of homesteading on the prairie and looking for wealth in the next boomtown—with the core of the book recreating Stegner’s own adolescence in Salt Lake City in the 1920s.
Joe Hill: A Biographical Novel (original title: The Preacher And the Slave) (1950)
The “Wobbly” labor organizer Joe Hill was working in a Park City mine in 1914 when framed for murder in Salt Lake City. He was executed (most say martyred) in 1915, and became a symbol of the American worker’s fight against power. Stegner tells the story of the man and the myth.
Angle of Repose (1971)
Stegner won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel about a writer/artist and her mining engineer husband roaming the West in the late 1800s. Their lives bring the West into the modern world. No Utah locations, but their experiences mirror the stories of Park City, Eureka, and other frontier outposts.
Bruce Mason, Stegner’s alter-ego in The Big Rock Candy Mountain, returns to Salt Lake City in his sixties. He vividly remembers his Bohemian youth, weekend romance at Saltair, a wedding in San Pete, the canyons of Capitol Reef… This is the great Salt Lake City novel.
Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner (1990)
Just three stories (“The Blue-Winged Teal,” “Maiden in the Tower,” and “The Volunteer”) use Utah settings, but the homestead stories capture similar experiences from frontier Utah childhoods. Stegner’s novels grew from these vignettes.
Mormon Country (1942)
Stegner’s lively ode to his home territory—and a popular history of the LDS colonization of Utah. Plenty of character studies, including Earl Douglass at Dinosaur, Everett Ruess, Marie Ogden and the Home of Truth, and Butch Cassidy. His tone is more nostalgia and reminiscence than history.
One Nation (1945)
Stegner’s visionary look at race relations at the end of World War II. Short essays on American Indians, Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Jews, and Catholics.
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (1954)
Stegner’s life of Powell is also the biography of the Colorado Plateau as a place and concept. There is no better introduction to the land and natural history of southern Utah.
Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier (1955)
Stegner’s memoir of his Saskatchewan homestead. Vivid stories about isolated ranches, small towns, and challenging weather—all a mirror of pioneer Utah.
This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers (1955)
Stegner edited this first Sierra Club “battle book,” using natural history essays and photography to fight dams proposed within Dinosaur National Monument.
The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail (1964)
Though non-Mormon, Stegner’s sympathy for the ordeal of the Mormon migration, his wide view as a cultural historian, and his gift for storytelling make this far more than a narrow work of history.
The Sound of Mountain Water (1969)
A collection of essays with plenty of history and geography. Includes “Wilderness Letter,” and essays about Glen Canyon, Navajo rodeos, and growing up in Salt Lake City. Stegner also writes about western values in “Born A Square” and western writers, including DeVoto.
Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil (1971)
Written as a “work-for-hire” for the oil company, Aramco, this yarn of exploring for oil in Arabian deserts parallels the oil development ramping up on the public lands of Utah. (The Stegner family dislikes the edition currently in print).
American Places (1985)
A collaboration with his son, Page, and the photographer, Eliot Porter, in celebration of the U.S. bicentennial. Stegner devotes full essays to the Utah High Plateaus and Great Salt Lake.
The Uneasy Chair: A Biography of Bernard DeVoto (1989)
Stegner’s friend and mentor, Bernard DeVoto, grew up in Ogden and wrote brilliant histories of the West. In this biography, Stegner comes to grips with his iconic friend and their parallel roots in the Utah landscape.
Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs (1992)
The last collection of essays published in his lifetime, this includes Stegner’s letter of apology to his mother, “much too late,” and the essential essays that sum up his philosophy of living in arid lands (originally published as The American West as Living Space.)
Marking the Sparrow’s Fall: The Making of the American West (1998; Page Stegner, ed.)
Stegner’s son, Page, made these selections, including “Wilderness Letter,” the classic short story about cowboys coping with a devastating winter storm, “Genesis;” and essays about Salt Lake City, Saltair, Lake Powell, the San Juan River, and several wonderful statements of Stegner’s synthesis of the American West.
BIOGRAPHY & BACKGROUND:
Conversations With Wallace Stegner on Western History and Literature (1983)
Stegner called these conversations with Richard Etulain the closest he came to autobiography.
Wallace Stegner: His Life and Work by Jackson Benson (1996)
Especially good on analysis and background of Stegner’s writing.
The Selected Letters of Wallace Stegner (2007; Page Stegner, ed.)
The letters span Stegner’s life and work and breadth of interests. Informal and intimate. Utah sprinkled throughout.
Wallace Stegner and the American West by Phillip Fradkin (new in paperback! 2009)
Goes beyond standard literary analysis to place Stegner in context in the history of conservation in 20th Century America.
Post a comment below or send your responses to Stegner to Steve Trimble at:
779 4th Avenue
Salt Lake City, UT 84103
or e-mail Steve at: