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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Writers encourage activism

By Adam Fifield

“Wallace Stegner made Henry David Thoreau look like a sissy sitting at the edge of a pond,” said Philip Fradkin, author of Wallace Stegner and the American West, at the Moot Auditorium Monday night.

The U’s center for environmental law, aptly named The Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment, along with The King’s English Bookstore invited Fradkin to lecture on his newly published biography of Stegner, who died in 1993, leaving behind an enormous legacy of both literary and environmental achievement. Fradkin is an environmental historian and journalist native to California who has focused his career on environmental issues.

Fradkin’s comparison of Stegner with Thoreau is appropriate because of their influence on both natural and written worlds — Thoreau for the 19th century, and Stegner for the 20th.

But Stegner’s contribution was unique to the western United States, Fradkin said, and he helped pioneer a uniquely western school of literature while crusading for conservation.

A student of English and creative writing, Stegner got his undergraduate at the University of Utah, his masters and Ph.D. at the University of Iowa, and taught at many universities around the country, the most notable of which was Stanford, where he helped form the now-legendary creative writing program that produced such writers as Ken Kesey, Edward Abbey, Robert Stone and Wendell Berry. Stegner won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, Angle of Repose, and Fradkin commented that Stegner’s life was a “continuous search for the angle of repose.”

“(Stegner) only wanted to be a writer of novels,” said Fradkin, but when he saw his once-rugged home in northern California deteriorate into what would become Silicon Valley, Stegner became what Fradkin called a “reluctant conservationist.” Starting from a fictional perspective, Stegner eventually found himself writing from a nonfiction perspective, and by the time of his death in 1993, he became more known as a conservationist than as a writer.

“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed,” wrote Stegner in a quote taken from the Wallace Stegner Center’s newsletter.

Now with the global conversation on climate change in full swing, writers have added their works of literature to the discourse. King’s English and the Stegner Center continue their showcase of important environmental authors with one of the defining voices on the subject, Bill McKibben, who will speak this Saturday at The City Library . McKibbin’s lecture, titled “Writing as an environmental act,” carries on in the same vein as Stegner, accenting humanity’s place among nature and the inherent responsibilities.

McKibben wrote what would be the first mainstream book on climate change, The End of Nature, in 1989, and as an authority on the subject, he’s organized many grass-roots demonstrations and rallies in support of environmental activism.

McKibben and Stegner both discovered that writing lent itself to activism, and that the demands of such an important subject as conservation required one to step away from the computer or typewriter and actively engage with the outside world. Their literature is not elitist, but it is important because their books portray an existence that, according to Stegner, is both “part of the natural world and competent to belong in it.”

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