Wallace Stegner was born in Lake Mills, Iowa, on February 18, 1909, the son of George and Hilda Paulson Stegner. His father was a dynamic but unstable dreamer who was always coming up with schemes to strike it rich in some new part of the West. Stegner’s mother cherished culture, tradition, polite manners, and all the values of established civilization. She was mismatched to the rowdy, uncouth George Stegner but remained with him until her death from cancer in 1933.
Stegner had an unstable childhood because his family was always moving. They lived in Iowa, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, Montana, and Utah. This is the vast region that Stegner would write about for the rest of his life. He worshiped his mother but had mixed feelings about his improvident father, who sometimes provided the family with luxuries and sometimes led them to the brink of starvation.
Wallace, a sickly and timid boy, buried himself in books. He did so well in school that he was able to enter the University of Utah at the age of sixteen. During this time he began to conceive the possibility of becoming a professional writer, but he wisely continued with his academic work and remained a scholar and teacher throughout his life. He taught at a number of different colleges and universities, gradually building a reputation and achieving financial security. His salary as a professor enabled him to devote time to writing without financial anxiety, and his growing number of...
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Stegner loved the landscape and people of the West. He believed in the traditional American virtues of hard work, integrity, and fair play. Although he was as good a writer as any of his more famous contemporaries, he did not achieve spectacular commercial success because he avoided sensationalism. He wrote in the great tradition of American realism and wanted to depict the real West, which was vastly different from the violent West of the popular media. He taught literature and creative writing for much of his life and inspired many young writers.
Wallace was so impressed by his own family history that he wrote thinly disguised versions of it in many novels and stories. Stegner was attracted to his father’s adventurous spirit and his mother’s high moral principles; he spent the rest of his life trying to reconcile these conflicting elements in his own nature through his writing.
Born in Iowa on his grandfather’s farm, Wallace Earle Stegner moved with his family to East End, Saskatchewan at the age of five. He was educated in Utah, where he received an A.B. from the University of Utah, in 1930; and in his native state, where he earned an M.A., in 1932, and a Ph.D., in 1935, from the University of Iowa. Although he was briefly enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles, he never actually attended any classes—he did not like California and returned to Utah as soon as he could.
Stegner once commented that his subjects and themes, both in fiction and in nonfiction, “are mainly out of the American West, in which I grew up.” He taught at various colleges and universities, primarily at Stanford University, where he was director of its creative writing program. Stegner coauthored books with both his wife, Mary, and his son, Page, but he stopped publishing short stories after 1960. He said that everything he wanted to write “somehow wanted to be long.” His attention continued to remain focused on the environment, a concern that began after World War II but that probably dated back to his childhood, when, as he said, he was “imprinted by the prairies.”
Wallace Earle Stegner was born on February 18, 1909, in Lake Mills, Iowa, the second son of George and Hilda Paulson Stegner. He was descended from Norwegian farmers on his mother’s side and unknown ancestors on his father’s side. His father was a drifter and a resourceful gambler—a searcher for the main chance, the big bonanza. In Stegner’s early years, the family moved often, following his father’s dream of striking it rich, from Grand Forks, North Dakota, to Bellingham, Washington, to Redmond, Oregon, to East End, Saskatchewan, where they lived from 1914 to 1921. East End left him with memories of people and landscapes that played an important role in The Big Rock Candy Mountain. The family moved in 1921 to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Stegner attended high school and began college. Here, Stegner went through the pains of adolescence and, although not himself a Mormon, developed a strong attachment to the land and a sympathy for Mormon culture and values, which are reflected in his later books such as Mormon Country (1942), The Gathering of Zion, and Recapitulation.
From 1925 to 1930, Stegner attended the University of Utah, where he balanced his personal interests and his studies with a job selling rugs and linoleum in the family business of a close friend. By a fortunate chance, he studied freshman English with Vardis Fisher, then a budding novelist, and Fisher helped stimulate Stegner’s growing interest...
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