Wallace Stegner and the American West

Wallace Stegner and the American West

By Philip L. Fradkin

Knopf, Hardcover, 9781400043910, 384pp.

Publication Date: February 12, 2008


Wallace Stegner was the premier chronicler of the twentieth-century western American experience, and his novels, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Angle of Repose and the National Book Award–winning The Spectator Bird, brought the life and landscapes of the West to national and international attention. Now, in this illuminating biography, Philip L. Fradkin goes beyond Stegner’s iconic literary status to give us, as well, the influential teacher and visionary conservationist, the man for whom the preservation and integrity of place was as important as his ability to render its qualities and character in his brilliantly crafted fiction and nonfiction.

From his birth in 1909 until his death in 1993, Stegner witnessed nearly a century of change in the land that he loved and fought so hard to preserve. We learn of his hardscrabble youth on the Canadian frontier and in Utah, and of his painful relationship with his father, a bootlegger and gambler. We follow his intellectual awakening as a young man and his years as a Depression-era graduate student at the University of Iowa, during its earliest days as a literary center.

We watch as he finds his home, with his wife, Mary, in the foothills above Palo Alto, which provided him with a long-awaited sense of belonging and a refuge in which he would write his most treasured works. And here are his years as the legendary founder of the Stanford Creative Writing Program, where his students included Ken Kesey, Edward Abbey, Robert Stone, and Wendell Berry.

But the changes wrought by developers and industrialists were too much for Stegner, and he tirelessly fought the transformation of his Garden of Eden into Silicon Valley. His writings on the importance of establishing national parks and wilderness areas—not only for the preservation of untouched landscape but also for the enrichment of the human spirit—played a key role in the passage of historic legislation and comprise some of the most beautiful words ever written about the natural world.

Here, too, is the story—told in full for the first time—of the accusations of plagiarism that followed the publication of Angle of Repose, and of the shadow they have cast on his greatest work.

Rich in personal and literary detail, and in the sensual description of the country that shaped his work and his life—this is the definitive account of one of the most acclaimed and admired writers, teachers, and conservationists of our time.

About the Author

Philip L. Fradkin shared the Pulitzer Prize as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and was western editor of Audubon magazine. He is the author of ten previous books, including A River No More: The Colorado River and the West. He lives on the coast north of San Francisco.

Praise For Wallace Stegner and the American West

"Clear-eyed . . . skillful . . . Reveals a canny, forthright, major figure in 20th century American letters."
--Peter Richardson, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"An ideal match between biographer and subject . . . You get the whole man . . . A true original as a person, as a writer and as a critic."
--Martin Rubin, San Francisco Chronicle

"[An] astute biography . . . Stegner may have been our last frontier writer."
--The New Yorker

"Fradkin is able to push past the plaudits and get closer to the man."
--Jeff Baker, The Oregonian

"Remarkable . . . The complexity of this important figure is finally captured . . . Fradkin brings a novelist's eye to this well-told life story."
--John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"A rich biography full of personal and professional detail"
--Gaylord Dold, The Wichita Eagle

"An excellent guide to Stegner's long, illustrious and varied careers."
--Irene Wanner, The Seattle Times

"A solid and informative study of the roots and the course of a literary life."
--Billy Wisse, New York Post

"Fradkin has given us our first full critical portrait of the man and his protean career. You can't finish this engaging biography without thinking, West or east, north or south, they don't make 'em like that anymore."--Men's Vogue

"Fradkin's book provides the comprehensive story of Stegner's achievements with inclusiveness and grace."--Rex Burns, Rocky Mountain News

"Insightful . . . A deep description of Stegner's literary life."
--Santa Cruz Sentinel

"Dynamic . . . Probing . . . [Fradkin] brilliantly combines literary and environmental history. A fresh and telling perspective on the rampant development of the arid West, and Stegner's prophetic warnings of the complex consequences."

"An engaging, holistic recounting of a rich, rough-and-tumble literary life, anchored in the rugged Western terrain, a fast-vanishing wilderness that Stegner would say we must preserve for our very sanity."

"Philip Fradkin has written what very well may be the definitive biography of Stegner. Because Stegner was blessed with the gift of beautiful writing, it is only fair that his biography be equally well-written."
--Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret Morning News

"Fradkin and Stegner share a talent for prose that can illuminate their beloved landscape and its people . . . Fradkin tells Stegner's life story . . . With a journalist's shrewdness and a novelist's sensitivity."
--Nicholas Nauman, Flavorpill