Curator’s Café, in the Cutbanks Room
Esplanade Arts and Heritage Centre
Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada
Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at 7 p.m.
Half World: The Boyhood Environment of Wallace Stegner
Nowhere on the roads in and out of Eastend, Saskatchewan, is there a sign reading, “Eastend: Boyhood Home of Wallace Stegner.” The tourist economy of Eastend, a village squat in the expansive valley of the Frenchman River, relies on a provincial museum of paleontology and on adjacency to the picturesque Cypress Hills. Stegner, the dean of western American literature, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and of the National Book Award, is known but not revered in Canada. His classic remembrance, Wolf Willow, nevertheless evokes the locale of his Canadian boyhood in a manner more compelling and evocative than any other prairie memoir.
That locale is, to a remarkable extent, intact today, with many of the landmarks and formations that Stegner experienced and described still in place—the Stegner home, with Wally’s room overlooking the Frenchman, wolf willow spilling down the bank; the swimming hole just downstream; the red brick school where he endured imperial history lessons; the Cypress Hotel where his father is supposed to have bootlegged whiskey. Moreover, place-cues in Wolf Willow make it possible to locate the site of the Stegner homestead on the American border, now part of a Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration community pasture.
Remarkably, no scholar—not even Stegner’s biographers—has investigated the historical sources on this place, or explored it physically with intention of understanding how it shaped Stegner as boy and author. How is it that in considering Stegner, who more than any other author represents the genesis of environmentalism in North America, no one has bothered to investigate his own environment?
This presentation does just that. It tracks down the sites of Wolf Willow and traces the historical sources that enlighten Eastend. It opens the boyhood environment of Wallace Stegner to literary pilgrimage.
Tom Isern is Professor of History, University Distinguished Professor, and founder of the Center for Heritage Renewal at North Dakota State University.
Dr. Suzzanne Kelley is managing editor and co-director of New Rivers Press, a nonprofit literary teaching press located at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
The two of them will have spent the past two weeks as writers in residence at the Wallace Stegner House, owned and maintained by the Eastend Arts Council, Eastend SK.