California Studies Association

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Wallace Stegner Centennial: NY Times Takes Notice

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The New York Times commemorated the centennial of Wallace Stegner’s birth with an opinion piece by Timothy Egan which focused on the Times’ condescending treatment toward Stegner and other “western” writers.  Mr. Egan writes, in part:

Were Stegner around this week to blow out the 100 candles on his birthday cake, it’s likely he would still be mad at the East Coast Media Conspiracy, and by that he meant this newspaper.

“It was the New York Times that broke his heart,” said Nancy Packer, a retired professor of English at Stanford, who knew Stegner well in the time he nurtured writers from Ken Kesey to Larry McMurtry here on the Farm, as the university is known.

Stegner won the National Book Award for “The Spectator Bird,” which the Times never reviewed. He also won a Pulitzer for his best-loved novel, “Angle of Repose,” which the paper only noticed after the award, and then with a sniff.

Even in anointing him the dean of Western writers, the Times couldn’t get his name right, calling him “William” Stegner. He died in 1993 at the age of 84.

Living and writing in the West, Stegner wrote, left him with the feeling that “I gradually receded over the horizon and disappeared.”

The fact that a writer of Stegner’s stature felt ghettoized with the dreaded tag of “regional author” raises the question of whether our national literature is too tightly controlled by the so-called cultural elite – those people who talk to each other in some mythic Manhattan echo chamber.

–Frank Gruber

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