Iowa’s Wallace Stegner

Iowa Rothko
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mike Willis

Inspired by our recent weekend (near) Iowa, I decided to choose this bountiful state as my subject this week.  Wallace Stegner was born in Lake Mills, Iowa — but if you’re wondering why you associate him so strongly with the West…  it could be because he grew up in Great Falls, Montana; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Saskatchewan.  He once said he “lived in twenty places in eight states and Canada.”  However, as his state of birth, Iowa may lay claim to him as a “native son.”

Many years ago I read his Pulitzer winning Angle of Repose as well as Crossing to Safety, and loved both.  However, today I think I will share something Stegner wrote in his “Wilderness Letter” of 1960: 

“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clean air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste.

And so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the animals, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it.

Out West

july 15 sunset
Creative Commons License photo credit: SurprisePally

Without any remaining wilderness we are committed wholly, without chance for even momentary reflection and rest, to a headlong drive into our technological termite-life, the Brave New World of a completely man-controlled environment.

We need wilderness preserved–as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds–because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed.

The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it.

It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives.

It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there–important, that is, simply as idea.” 

Corn field
Creative Commons License photo credit: PlanMyGreen

Curious about what states we’ve done so far and which ones are on deck?

Photo by marxchivist

First, from Melanie Jones:

  • Alabama: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (check out my To Kill A Mockingbird Sample Kit!)
  • Michigan: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides
  • Alaska: The Man Who Swam With Beavers by Nancy Lord
  • Arizona: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
  • North Dakota: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
  • Vermont: The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • Hawaii: Heads by Harry by Lois-ann Yamanaka
  • Georgia: Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones
  • And I went out on my own for…

  • Florida: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Nora Zeale Hurston
  • Minnesota: In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien
  • Wisconsin: When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton
  • Louisiana: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells (Jones’ pick) and The Awakening by Kate Chopin (my pick)
  • Colorado: Plainsong by Kent Haruf
  • Maryland: Anything by Anne Tyler
  • Georgia: Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • Ohio: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • Arkansas: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Virginia: John Grisham
  • Idaho: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  • North Carolina: Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
  • Tennesee: Run by Ann Patchett
  • New Jersey: Anything by Janet Ivanovich
  • Texas: Anything by Elmer Kelton
  • Connecticut: The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
  • Montana: The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie
  • Utah: Edward Abbey
  • South Carolina: Pat Conroy
  • Wondering where your state is? Coming soon… In the meantime, weigh in on future picks!

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    9 Responses to Iowa’s Wallace Stegner

    1. smallworld says:

      I so loved Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety. I’ve always meant to read more Stegner but haven’t since graduate school. Thanks for the reminder!

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