Wallace Stegner Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What, according to Wallace Stegner, are the characteristics of the “true West”?

Discuss Stegner’s evocation of western landscape in Angle of Repose.

In which of Stegner’s short stories do problems of personal identity figure prominently?

What is unusual about the point of view in The Big Rock Candy Mountain? What do the shifts in point of view accomplish?

Stegner taught creative writing to Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Larry McMurtry, and Raymond Carver, among others. Do these writers share literary qualities that might be attributed to Stegner’s influence?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

ph_0111207117-Stegner.jpg Wallace Stegner Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Primarily a novelist and historian, Wallace Stegner is the author of many novels, from Remembering Laughter (1937) to The Spectator Bird (1976); his best-known and perhaps his best novel, The Big Rock Candy Mountain, was published in 1943, and Angle of Repose (1971) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Mormon Country, his first book of nonfiction, was published in 1942; it was followed by approximately a dozen others, including Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (1954), The Sound of Mountain Water (essays, 1969), and The Uneasy Chair: A Biography of Bernard DeVoto (1974). In addition, he edited many books, including Great American Short Stories (with Mary Stegner, 1957), numerous annual volumes of Stanford Short Stories (with Richard Scowcroft), and The Letters of Bernard DeVoto (1975).

In 1987, Stegner published the novel Crossing to Safety, which he said is “a sort of memoir for Mary [his wife] and myself.” A gentle and affectionate portrait of two very different academic couples, Crossing to Safety met with great critical and popular acclaim. In an offshoot to his long teaching career, Stegner published On the Teaching of Creative Writing: Responses to a Series of Questions in 1988.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Wallace Stegner’s talent lay in his evocation of the West, which otherwise has been poorly documented in so-called Westerns, whether they be films or novels. As writer Richard Etulain has noted, what gives Stegner’s work “its essential character is a deep familiarity with American historical, cultural, and political terrain.” Stegner’s work reveals the many aspects that make up American culture, or Americana. In addition, it provides a basis for understanding modern life in the United States. His literary efforts in this pursuit to portray fast-disappearing cultural and geographic sections of the United States were recognized with the Western History Association Prize in 1990.

Stegner received many awards and honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Fellowship, the Pulitzer Prize, a National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Fellowship, and an American Academy in Rome fellowship. In the spring of 1990, Stegner was given a lifetime achievement award by PEN USA Center West. In September of the same year, he was awarded a senior fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Wallace Stegner also published three collections of short fiction, The Women on the Wall (1950), The City of the Living, and Other Stories (1956), and Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner (1990); two biographies, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (1954) and The Uneasy Chair: A Biography of Bernard De Voto (1974); two collections of critical essays, The Writer in America (1951) and On Teaching and Writing Fiction (2002); a historical monograph, The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail (1964); and three volumes of personal essays on the Western experience, Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier(1962), The Sound of Mountain Water (1969), and Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the West (1992). Stegner also published a number of edited works, both nonfiction and fiction.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Wallace Stegner would have three distinct audiences after the start of his career: the popular magazine audience, readers interested in modern American literature, and a regional audience interested in the culture and history of the American West. From the 1930’s, he published seventy-two short stories, with fifty of them appearing in such magazines as Harper’s, Mademoiselle, Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Redbook, Atlantic Monthly, Inter-Mountain Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Bernard De Voto, Van Wyck Brooks, and Sinclair Lewis recognized his talent early, and De Voto was instrumental in encouraging Stegner to continue writing. Stegner enjoyed a solid critical reputation as a regional American writer concerned largely with the problems and themes of the Western American experience.

Stegner also won numerous honors throughout his career. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Arts and Letters, and he was awarded fellowships by Phi Beta Kappa, the Huntington Library, the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Wintergreen Foundations. In 1937, he won the Little, Brown Novelette Prize for Remembering Laughter. He also won the O. Henry Memorial Award for short stories in 1942, 1948, and 1950, and in 1972 he received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his Angle of Repose. Other awards for his work include the Houghton Mifflin Life-in-America Award in 1945 and the Commonwealth Club Gold Medal in 1968. In 1981, he became the first recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award for Life Achievement from the Los Angeles Times.

As a master ofnarrative technique and a respected literary craftsman, Stegner had the opportunity to influence many young writers associated with the Stanford University Creative Writing Program, where he taught from 1945 to 1971. His students included Eugene Burdick, one of the authors of The Ugly American (1958); Ken Kesey; and Thomas McGuane. His own theory of literature was rather traditional and appears in two extended pieces of criticism, The Writer in America and On Teaching and Writing Fiction. The creative process, he believed, is basically the imposition of form on personal experience. The committed writer must discipline him- or herself to the difficult work of creation, choosing significant images from the insignificant and selecting significant actions for his or her characters. The writer must change the disorderliness of memory into symmetry without violating the reader’s sense of what is true to life.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Arthur, Anthony, ed. Critical Essays on Wallace Stegner. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. Although not an exhaustive discussion of Stegner’s works, these essays cover much of his most important writing, including his short fiction. Notes for further reference are included, as are primary and secondary bibliographical information and an index.

Benson, Jackson J. Wallace Stegner: His Life and Work. New York: Viking Press, 1996. A biography that argues against pigeonholing Stegner as a Western writer. Focuses largely on the people and events that most influenced Stegner’s art, including Robert Frost and Bernard DeVoto; covers Stegner’s teaching career and his influence on such writers as Ken Kesey, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and Larry McMurty.

Burrows, Russell. “Wallace Stegner’s Version of Pastoral: The Topic of Ecology in His Work.” Western American Literature 25 (May, 1990): 15-25. Stegner’s environmentalist stance has had a definite effect on his work, and this article discusses Stegner’s use of the pastoral setting in much of his fiction, both long and short. Includes bibliographical information and notes for further reference on points within the article.

Colberg, Nancy. Wallace Stegner: A Descriptive Bibliography. Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence Press, 1990. This text contains detailed descriptions of Stegner’s works, from his very early writing to The American West as Living Space. Colberg also provides sections for other Stegner material, such as contributions to books and edited works. A short appendix that also serves as a secondary bibliography is a good resource for the original publication information for Stegner’s individual short stories.

Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner and Other Essays. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996. In the title essay of this collection, Cook-Lynn, a Native American, argues with Stegner’s view of Native American culture. She...

(The entire section is 866 words.)