Wallace Stegner and the American West

I was looking around for another subject to write about in the fall of 2003 that had nothing to do with earthquakes, as I had just finished three books on the subject. I received a letter from Page Stegner asking if I had any letters from his father, as he was putting together a volume of selected letters. Unfortnately, all my letters had burned in a 1988 house fire. But I thought, "What about a biography of Stegner." Research revealed the 1996 biography had shortcomings and there would be a centennial of his birth in 2009.

I thought the subject would be an easy sell back at "headquarters," as Stegner referred to the New York-Boston publishing axis. It wasn't. It was persistently viewed as a literary biography, which it wasn't. It was the story of a man and his life set against the history of the American West in the 20th century. Through persistent efforts, including two approaches to an editor at Knopf, who eventually published the book, I was offered a contract. The book took a little less than three years to research and write. It was published in February of 2008 to generally excellent reviews and will be published by the University of California Press as a paperback in early 2009.

The cataogue description follows:

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. But 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.

We learn of Stegner’s hardscrabble youth on the Canadian frontier and in Utah. We watch as he makes a home with his wife Mary in the foothills of Palo Alto, whose rapid development into Silicon Valley he fights tirelessly along with opposing dams on the Colorado River. Here are his years at the head of the Stanford Creative Writing Program, where his students included Ken Kesey, Edward Abbey, Robert Stone, and Wendell Berry. And here too is the full story of the accusations of plagiarism which followed the publication of Angle of Repose.

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

Biography/​ History
6 ¼ x 9 ¼
400 pages, 31 b/​w photos
Available from Knopf in January 2008
ISBN-13/​EAN: 978-1-4000-4391-0 • 1-4000-4391-3
$27.50 (Canada: $35.00)

Backstories of Earlier Works

Nonfiction
The definitive life of the West's outstanding writer, teacher of writers, and conservationist.
The use and abuse of the West's lifeblood, water.
Radioactive fallout from the Nevada Test Site caused innocent people to die.
How landscape has determined the history and destiny of California
Giant waves, five hundred feet higher than the Empire State Building, sweep a remote Alaska Bay.

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