That Stegner Fellow

I lived for eight years in San Francisco, a famously beautiful city that famously has a chip on its shoulder when it comes to getting respect from the alleged “East Coast establishment.” The San Francisco Chronicle once ran a Sunday magazine piece about the Bay Area’s culture of young writers, and the story’s author found multiple ways to say, “You won’t find this kind of writing in that snobby/elitist/hermetically sealed New York culture!” I suspect most of the writers profiled now live in Brooklyn.

Anyway, one of the main talking points in this debate, at least when it comes to books, is Wallace Stegner, who wrote one of Northern California’s defining novels, Angle of Repose. You heard about it often out in San Francisco, where it’s the point of reference for any novel about the American west that picks up themes of pioneering and the environment; on the East Coast, you’ll hear nary a peep about it. The New York Times gets at this divide a little in a piece on a writers’ gathering dedicated to Stegner in Point Reyes, Calif.:

The East’s perceived dismissal of Stegner’s Western-ness was another leitmotif during the conference. [Stegner biographer] Mr. [Philip L.] Fradkin made repeated references to the failure of The New York Times Book Review to publish a review of “Angle of Repose” — and the dismissive column about it in The Times (“a Pontiac in the age of Apollo, an Ed Muskie in the fiction sweepstakes”) written by John Leonard after the book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1972.

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