Authors: Wallace Stegner

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist, short-story writer, essayist, historian, and biographer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Remembering Laughter, 1937

The Potter’s House, 1938

On a Darkling Plain, 1940

Fire and Ice, 1941

The Big Rock Candy Mountain, 1943

Second Growth, 1947

The Preacher and the Slave, 1950

A Shooting Star, 1961

All the Little Live Things, 1967

Angle of Repose, 1971

The Spectator Bird, 1976

Recapitulation, 1979

Joe Hill, 1980

Crossing to Safety, 1987

Short Fiction:

The Women on the Wall, 1950

The City of the Living, and Other Stories, 1956

Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner, 1990


Mormon Country, 1942

One Nation, 1945 (with the editors of Look)

Look at America: The Central Northwest, 1947

The Writer in America, 1951

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West, 1954

Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier, 1962

The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail, 1964

The Sound of Mountain Water, 1969

The Uneasy Chair: A Biography of Bernard De Voto, 1974

Ansel Adams: Images, 1923-1974, 1974

One Way to Spell Man, 1982

American Places, 1983

Conversations with Wallace Stegner on Western History and Literature, 1983

The American West as Living Space, 1987

On the Teaching of Creative Writing: Responses to a Series of Questions, 1988 (Edward Connery Lathem, editor)

Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the West, 1992

Marking the Sparrow’s Fall: Wallace Stegner’s American West, 1998 (Page Stegner, editor)

Stealing Glances: Three Interviews with Wallace Stegner, 1998 (James R. Hepworth, editor)

On Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002 (Lynn Stegner, editor)

Edited Texts:

An Exposition Workshop, 1939

Readings for Citizens at War, 1941

Stanford Short Stories, 1946, 1947 (with Richard Scowcroft)

The Writer’s Art: A Collection of Short Stories, 1950 (with Scowcroft and Boris Ilyin)

This Is Dinosaur: The Echo Park and Its Magic Rivers, 1955

The Exploration of the Colorado River of the West, 1957

Great American Short Stories, 1957 (with Mary Stegner)

Selected American Prose: The Realistic Movement, 1958

Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States, 1962

Modern Composition, 1964 (4 volumes)

The American Novel: From Cooper to Faulkner, 1965

Twenty Years of Stanford Short Stories, 1966

The Letters of Bernard De Voto, 1975


In a varied career of more than half a century, Wallace Earle Stegner (STEHG-nehr) has earned an honored place in American letters and is one of the foremost authors to have been closely associated with western North American themes. He was born in Lake Mills, Iowa, to George H. Stegner and his wife, Hilda (Paulson) Stegner, but his family soon moved from the Midwest to live in a succession of western locales ranging from southern Saskatchewan to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he entered the University of Utah in 1925. Stegner was a shy, quiet child, but he became both a fine athlete and scholar despite a domineering father and the displacements of his early family life. At the university, he became a student of the noted writer Vardis Fisher, whose work was an early influence upon him. Completing a B.A. there in 1930, Stegner then attended the University of Iowa, from which he received an M.A. in 1932 and a Ph.D. in 1935.{$I[AN]9810000779}{$I[A]Stegner, Wallace}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Stegner, Wallace}{$I[tim]1909;Stegner, Wallace}

Wallace Stegner

(Library of Congress)

In his mid-twenties, Stegner was poised for a career either as a teacher or as a writer, but by 1937, he had chosen both, for in that year he gained the first of several university appointments and his first major fiction work, Remembering Laughter, was published. This novella is the story of an Iowa farmer, Alec Stuart, and his prim wife, Margaret, whose vital younger sister is drawn into an affair with Alec. The heart of the tale describes the affair’s somber legacy of pregnancy, alienation, and death, relieved only at the end by the courageous departure of the fourteen-year-old son/nephew to find a new life. While Remembering Laughter is far surpassed by most of Stegner’s later fiction, it is a well-wrought statement of many themes he would later explore, particularly that of conflicts within families.

From 1937 to 1945, Stegner taught creative writing at the University of Utah, University of Wisconsin, and Harvard University. Stegner’s next three novels describe other varieties of social, emotional, and physical isolation. The Potter’s House, set in California, concerns a deaf-mute artisan and his family, whose life is upset by the meddling of the potter’s brother. On a Darkling Plain is the story of a young Canadian soldier who, wounded by gas in World War I, seeks recuperative isolation by homesteading in Saskatchewan, only to be brought back to a sense of community in joining with his neighbors to combat the deadly influenza epidemic of 1918. Fire and Ice forgoes the connection with the land seen in Stegner’s first novels and concerns the struggles of a midwestern college student caught in conflicts of ideology and personal conduct.

In these few years, Stegner had completed his novelist’s apprenticeship, and in 1943 he achieved his first critical and popular success with The Big Rock Candy Mountain. This semiautobiographical novel is dominated by the character of the ambitious but erratic Bo Mason, a seeker after the American Dream whose search for prosperity pushes the limits of the law and family cohesion alike. The events of the novel closely parallel the Stegner family’s years in Saskatchewan, Montana, Washington, and Utah as Wallace’s father pursued a futile series of money-making schemes. In large measure, this first longer novel set the tone of Stegner’s future writing, particularly in suggesting that the restless individualism of Bo Mason is the disabling, if not destructive, expression of an outworn frontier mythology.

In 1945 he accepted a position at Stanford University, where he stayed for the remainder of his academic career, until 1971. After The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Stegner might conceivably have become identified exclusively with the West (and in fact he remained, throughout his career, a spokesman for the West both as a writer and as a conservationist), but he chose New England as the locale of his next novel, Second Growth, a study of change and renewal in social values following World War II. Almost all the author’s subsequent books have had western locales, but Stegner has resisted easy classification as a “regional” writer by diversifying his themes and by examining their widest cultural implications. Stegner’s 1972 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Angle of Repose, perhaps the best known of all of his books, is a key example of his wish to examine major issues such as the relationship of the West and the East in American culture and the significance of history in personal and social life. The novel’s narrator, Lyman Ward, is an ailing professor of history engaged in distilling the letters and diaries of his grandparents, whose married life in the nineteenth century West Lyman discovers to have been a web of misunderstanding. Susan Ward, his grandmother, regarded her marriage as an undeserved exile from the genteel East, while her husband, a visionary and idealistic mining engineer, suffered professional failure and Susan’s incomprehension. The geological term “angle of repose,” denoting the incline at which a landslide or talus slope achieves stability, serves as a metaphor for the uneasy stability of relationships maintained at cross-purposes. Stegner achieved a new level of thematic and structural richness in Angle of Repose by mingling past and present while maintaining control of the narrative through his alter ego Lyman Ward, who expresses Stegner’s belief in “life chronological, not life existential.”

In the short story “Field Guide to the Western Birds” and in the novel All the Little Live Things, Stegner developed the character Joe Allston, who, like Lyman Ward, is a vigorously ironic dissenter from contemporary American social and moral values. Allston reappeared in The Spectator Bird, a National Book Award winner in 1977 that was well received by the public, though some critics found the older Allston tedious, if believable. The Spectator Bird is another retrospective novel but uses European locales and themes (surprisingly, the Danish writer Isak Dinesen is a minor character). The theme of remembrance was further explored in Recapitulation, which reintroduces the character of Bruce Mason of The Big Rock Candy Mountain, and a novel set in the Midwest and New England, Crossing to Safety. An account of Stegner’s career as a novelist reveals chronological gaps that were largely taken up with work on short fiction and nonfiction writing. In his short stories, Stegner often rehearses material that he later explores in novels. For example, both “The Blue-Winged Teal” (perhaps his best short story) and “Maiden in a Tower” make an appearance, in altered form, in Recapitulation two decades after their publication in the collection The City of the Living, and Other Stories. Similarly, within the body of his nonfiction, the commissioned documentary study One Nation anticipates Second Growth, and more indirectly, Stegner’s scholarly historical study Beyond the Hundredth Meridian precedes Angle of Repose in its attention to the conflict between myth and reality in western development.

While his acclaimed book on John Wesley Powell is straight history, Stegner’s Wolf Willow, subtitled A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier, combines autobiography, history, and two short stories, “Genesis” and “Carrion Spring.” Widely admired in Canada as well as the United States, Wolf Willow is centered on the author’s reminiscence of the part of his childhood spent in East End, Saskatchewan, at the foot of the Cypress Hills. Notwithstanding the fact that it was written before the midpoint of his literary career, the book draws together so many of Stegner’s strengths as a writer, including his mastery of the short story, his use of evocative family chronicle, and his appreciation of the role of history and environment in daily life, that it may be taken as a paradigm of the work of this unusually versatile man of letters. Stegner died in 1993 from injuries sustained in an automobile accident.

BibliographyArthur, 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 particularly takes issue with Stegner’s claim that Western history ended in 1890, the year of the massacre at Wounded Knee, and his unchallenged statement that the Plains Indians are done forever.Etulain, Richard W. Conversations with Wallace Stegner on Western History and Literature. Rev. ed. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1990.Meine, Curt, ed. Wallace Stegner and the Continental Vision: Essays on Literature, History, and Landscape. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1997. A collection of papers presented at a 1996 symposium in Madison, Wisconsin. Includes essays on Stegner and the shaping of the modern west, the art of storytelling, history, environmentalism, politics, and bioregionalism.Nelson, Nancy Owne. “Land Lessons in an ‘Unhistoried’ West: Wallace Stegner’s California.” In San Francisco in Fiction: Essays in a Regional Literature, edited by David Fine and Paul Skenazy. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995. Argues that Stegner’s California experience from the 1940’s to the 1970’s helped to shape the environmental philosophy of his work. Discusses Stegner’s preservationist position in several fictional and nonfictional works.Rankin, Charles E., ed. Wallace Stegner: Man and Writer. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996. A collection of essays by various critics on Stegner’s life and art. Most helpful for understanding Stegner’s short fiction are the essays by Elliott West on “Storytelling and Western Identity,” Jackson J. Benson’s “The Story of Wallace Stegner’s Fiction,” and William Bevis’s “The Civic Style.”Robinson, Forrest G. Wallace Stegner. Boston: Twayne, 1977. This text is a combination of biographical information on Stegner and interpretation and literary criticism of his work up to the mid-1970’s. Robinson provides a chronology of Stegner’s life and writings as well as detailed bibliographical information, both primary and secondary. Supplemented by notes and an index.Stegner, Wallace. “The Art of Fiction: An Interview with Wallace Stegner.” Interview by James R. Hepworth. The Paris Review 115 (Summer, 1990): 58-90. In this interview, Stegner talks about how he became a writer, as well as about writing in general. Although no references are included, this article is useful for the first-hand information it provides about Stegner through the interview process.Stegner, Wallace, and Richard Etulain. Conversations with Wallace Stegner. Rev. ed. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1990. This edition is an expanded version of a book that first came out in 1983–a later interview section has been added to the first part of the book. In it, Stegner talks about all of his work up to Crossing to Safety. Includes biographical information in the form of answers to interview questions and also covers Stegner’s view of the American literary West as well as the West–such as Western history and the wilderness areas of the West–in general. References to individual short stories (as well as to the collections) can be found in the index.Willrich, Patricia Rowe. “A Perspective on Wallace Stegner.” The Virginia Quarterly Review 67 (Spring, 1991): 240-258. This article covers the high points of Stegner’s long career as a writer and scholar, giving both biographical details and information about his work. Good for an overview of, as well as for specifics on, Stegner’s literary output.Zahlan, Anne Ricketson. “Cities of the Living: Disease and the Traveller in the Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner.” Studies in Short Fiction 29 (Fall, 1992): 509-515. Discusses a number of thematically complementary stories in which characters travel into or away from exile, attempt to recover the past, or explore new avenues to discover the self.
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