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.