The Unsinkable brian cork™

Brian Patrick Cork is living the Authentic Life

Wallace Stegner is dead – and, saving the world

April8

Looking forward…  In this years elections, the environment is the issue that will most influence voting at 31%.

Looking back…  My Grandad was a keen fan of author Wallace Stegner.

Describing Wallace Stegner as an “author” is like describing a grizzly as “brown.” Mr. Stegner wrote 15 novels and 16 works of nonfiction. His myth-busting western realism earned every major American literary honor, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for Angle of Repose. But as two new books show, Stegner, who was raised in Washington, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana, and Utah, shaped the landscape of the west as much as it shaped him.

In Wallace Stegner and the American West, an absorbing biography by environmental historian Philip L. Fradkin, we see how Stegner adhered to his conviction that “our fiction … is likely to be as frivolous or as serious as our lives are.”

Rather than hiding within his success, Stegner used his longtime teaching position at Stanford University to nurture Western writers from Edward Abbey to Thomas McGuane. However, I feel his most enduring legacy might be his efforts on behalf of the land itself. His 1960 “Wilderness Letter” arguing for protection of America’s wilds, which Stegner saw as “a geography of hope,” helped convince Congress to pass the 1964 Wilderness Act; his work with David Brower to save the Grand Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument, Fradkin argues, molded “many of the tools, techniques, and attitudes of present-day environmentalists.”

The Selected Letters of Wallace Stegner is edited by Wallace’s son, writer Page Stegner, and is a handy companion to Fradkin’s book. Whether Stegner is venting to Barry Lopez about the press in 1991—”novelists have to take over the functions of reporters, especially on environmental matters”/1 —or cutting the anti-establishment poet Gary Snyder down to size in 1968 – “I have spent a lot of days … in the meetings that ultimately save redwoods, and I have to say that I never saw there on the firing line any of the mystical drop-outs or mediators” – we see a man whose literary greatness stemmed from equal doses of love and anger. “Too many writers are far too little involved,” he wrote in 1961.

Right up until his death, in 1993 at age 84, Stegner proved an exception to that rule.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

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1/ See my concerns around the Media in my Blog entry entitled “The Media vs. The People”.

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brian cork by John Campbell





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