Article with Philip Fradkin, author of Wallace Stegner and the American West

Book Page On February 12, 2009, Libby Motika, Senior Editor of the Palisadian-Post wrote a fantastic article on Philip Fradkin and his new book, Wallace Stegner and the American West (UC Press, February 2009).


Writer Fradkin to Talk on Stegner and American West

By: Libby Motika, Senior Editor

Nature,
culture, and enlightenment come together as Philip Fradkin,
award-winning author and long time environmental writer, shares his
biographical insight of author Wallace Stegner at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday,
February 17 in Temescal Gateway Park, at the corner of Sunset and
Temescal Canyon Road. Fradkin will discuss and sign his 2008 biography
'Wallace Stegner and the American West' (University of California
Press).

In his talk, hosted by the Culture in the Canyon Chautauqua series,
Fradkin explores Stegner's life as an influential environmental
writer,from his hardscrabble youth to his positions as head of the
Stanford Creative Writing Program.

Stegner is best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Angle of
Repose' and the National Book Award-winning 'The Spectator Bird.'
However, he 'was a premier chronicler of the 20th century Western
American experience and landscape,' Fradkin says.

'I can't think of anyone in the American West who has contributed on
so many levels,' Fradkin told the Palisadian-Post. 'There are three
aspects. As a writer of fiction and nonfiction, as a teacher of
writing, and as a conservation activist.'

As a teacher of writing, Stegner influenced a number of writers,
including Kentucky farmer, activist, ecologist and writer Wendell
Berry, novelists Larry McMurtry and Ken Kesey, and nature writer Edward
Abbey, Fradkin says. 'Some went on to do really great things, some who
didn't go on to do anything at all, but wrote incredible letters to
Stegner.'

Stegner was a conservation activist, Fradkin says. In 1962, he
founded the Committee For Green Foothills, (equivalent to the Friends
of the Santa Monica Mountains), which launched a campaign to create
open space above Palo Alto and in the foothills. 'He did a lot on both
the local and national level. He was the special aide to Secretary of
the Interior Steward Udall, chairman of the National Parks Advisory
Committee and served on the board of directors of the Sierra Club.'

Two previous Stegner biographies were written by professors of
literature and dealt mainly with him as a literary figure, Fradkin
says. 'I was pleased to work with the man and the physical landscapes
he inhabited; someone who was not perfect, but who had a code of
behavior that he stubbornly adhered to.'

Although Fradkin wrote his biography 15 years after Stegner had died
in 1993, he meet him briefly in 1981. 'I was the Western editor of
Audubon Magazine, and had started writing books, the first one being 'A
River No More,' about the Colorado River. I was working on a book about
the Sagebrush Rebellion'a movement which pitted Western state ranchers
and miners, who wanted to acquire public land in the West, against the
federal government's open space protections.

'I had wanted to talk to him and I wrote him a letter, although I had
purposely stayed away from him until that time because I didn't want to
be overly influenced by any one person. I got a postcard back, saying
that he was glad that we were going to meet and that he was reviewing
my Colorado River book. It was the first validation I had received on
becoming a writer.'Fradkin, a former Los Angeles Times newspaper journalist (1964-75),
started the paper's first environment column. He recalls a story he
wrote for the Sunday Times that suggested, 'making something of value
of all the land purchases in the Santa Monica Mountains.' In 1978, the
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was established.

The program and parking are free.

Note: Special thanks to the folks at the Palisadian-Post for granting us permission to re-post.