Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wallace Stegner and the American West

THOUGH he's best known for his novels, wallace stegner's non-fiction, especially his essays, are among the wonders of the american west... here is a fine NYT piece by northwest correspondent timothy egan on the occasion of the great writer's 100th birthday. (stegner was born 60 years before yours truly, almost to the day.)

the subject of egan's piece is stegner's assertion that the literary west was being overlooked by the new york/east coast literary establishment. i get into some of this in an LAT piece here, which includes an interview with philip fradkin, author of the bio, just out in paperback, to the right. i also speak briefly to renowned poet/farmer wendell berry.

stegner has become a patron saint of resentful westerners, which i find myself some days becoming. but what's sometimes overlooked is that he was, like all good writers, a critic and conscience of his region as well. as stegner pointed out, the west had more than its share of local-boosterism, and this is part of what kept the east from taking its claims seriously. 

my favorite line of stegner's comes from this side of his intellect: that the relationship of the rural west to washington, dc (the other axis of that dreaded eastern establishment) is "leave us alone and send us more money."

on a day when stegner's beloved state of california has struggled against homegrown anti-tax zealots to get a budget signed, and is still more than $40 billion in the hole -- and waiting for assistance from, ah, washington and its tax revenues -- the man seems more prescient than ever!

Photo credit: Amazon


dskinner said...

In regards to the West's mixed messages towards Washington and the history of western expansion as it relates to government land grants etc, check out Joan Didion's "Where I Was From". She bounces around a bit, but the chapters on the rail road, and the central valley offer great insight into the subject. How do you feel about Abbey?

Scott Timberg said...

absolutely -- the didion book is dead-on when it gets into this libertarian/on-the-dole contradition of california... it is the last great book on cali i can think of....

abbey a complicated figure -- i am glad i am not one of his neglected offspring -- but a brilliant, powerful writer. desert solitaire is among the best of its kind.

to some in the enviro-scene he was considered an irresponsible anarchist, and i wont take sides on that debate -- it's a profound one.