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Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) Paperback – December 1, 2000
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Beautiful and moving...In many ways the best of all the good books Stegner has written. -- Walter Van Tilberg Clarck
Enchanting, heartrending, and eminently enviable. -- Vladimir Nabokov
About the Author
Wallace Stegner was born in 1909 in Lake Mills, Iowa. The son of Scandinavian immigrants, he traveled with his parents and brother all over the West-to North Dakota, Washington, Saskatchewan, Montana, and Wyoming-before settling in Salt Lake City in 1921. Many of the landscapes he encountered in his peripatetic youth figure largely in his work, as do characters based on his stern father and athletic, outgoing brother. Stegner received most of his education in Utah, graduating from the University in 1930. He furthered his education at the University of Iowa, where he received a master's and a doctoral degree. He married Mary Stuart Page in 1934, and for the next decade the couple followed Wallace's teaching career-to the University of Wisconsin, Harvard, and eventually to Stanford University, where he founded the creative writing program, and where he was to remain until his retirement in 1971. A number of his creative writing students have become some of today's most well respected writers, including Wendell Berry, Thomas McGuane, Raymond Carver, Edward Abbey, Robert Stone, and Larry McMurty.
Throughout his career and after, Stegner's literary output was tremendous. His first novel, Remembering Laughter, was published in 1937. By the time of his death in 1993 he had published some two dozen works of fiction, history, biography, and essays. Among his many literary prizes are the Pulitzer Prize for Angle of Repose (1971) and the National Book Award for The Spectator Bird (1976). His collection of essays, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs (1992), was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle award.
Although his fiction deals with many universal themes, Stegner is primarily recognized as a writer of the American West. Much of his literature deals with debunking myths of the West as a romantic country of heroes on horseback, and his passion for the terrain and its inhabitants have earned him the title 'The Dean of Western Letters'. He was one of the few true Men of Letters in this generation. An historian, essayist, short story writer and novelist, as well as a leading environmental writer. Although always connected in people's minds with the West, he had a long association with New England. Many short stories and one of his most successful novels, Crossing to Safety, are set in Vermont, where he had a summer home for many years. Another novel, The Spectator Bird, takes place in Denmark.
An early environmentalist, he actively championed the region's preservation and was instrumental-with his now-famous 'Wilderness Letter'-in the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Honest and straightforward, educated yet unpretentious, cantankerous yet compassionate, Wallace Stegner was an enormous presence in the American literary landscape, a man who wrote and lived with ferocity, energy, and integrity.
Page Stegner is a Professor Emeritus of American Literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
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Top Customer Reviews
Stegner is a gifted, intelligent writer, able to turn the people and events of history into compelling reading. The opening section of the book describes the experience of being on the plains and specifically in the area where Stegner was a boy. And it lays out the geography of that land -- a distant range of hills, the river, the coulees, the town -- which the book will return to again and again.
The following section evokes the period of frontier Canada's early exploration, the emergence of the metis culture, the destruction of the buffalo herds, the introduction of rangeland cattle, and then wave upon wave of settlement pushing the last of the plains Indians westward and northward. A chapter is devoted to the surveying of the boundary along the Canada-U.S. border; another chapter describes the founding of the Mounted Police and its purely Canadian style of bringing law and order to the wild west.
The middle section of the book is a novella and a short story about the winter of 1906-1907. In the longer piece, eight men rounding up cattle are caught on the open plains in an early blizzard. Stegner builds the drama and the peril of their situation artfully and convincingly. The final section of the book returns to Stegner's memories of the town and the homestead, ending with his family's departure for Montana.
Stegner lived at a time and in a place where a person born in the 20th century could still experience something of the sweep of history that transformed the American plains. I've read many books about the West, and because of his depth of thought, his gifts as a writer, and his unflinching eye, Stegner's work ranks for me among the best. I heartily recommend this book.
The book is an intimate, knowing portrait of the area and an insightful meditation of what living on a frontier was like, not just writing about it or seeing romanticized movies.
While Stegner sometimes suffers from being the creative writing professor he was, for my time and money he remains the preeminent literary voice of the West. As with almost all of his work, Wolf Willow is an engrossing read and will leave you thinking long after you close the back cover.
"On those miraculously beautiful and murderously cold nights glittering with the green and blue darts from a sky like polished dark metal, when the moon had gone down, leaving the hollow heavens to the stars and the overflowing cold light of the Aurora, he thought he had moments of the clearest vision ... In every direction ... the snow spread; here and there the implacable plain glinted back a spark - the beam of a cold star reflected in a crystal of ice." (The scene evokes in me a powerful memory, as I recall often standing alone on just such "murderously cold" snow blanketed prairies and gazing into those "miraculously beautiful" night skies.)
Most Recent Customer Reviews
the West as he does and no one ever will. His sentences are
astoundingly beautiful creations.Read more