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Stegner House

 

At one time this was the finest house in Eastend, Saskatchewan. It was built by George Stegner, husband of Hilda, father of Wallace Stegner, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Wally’s room was upstairs, with a window facing west, toward the Cypress Hills.

 

I’m talking about the Wallace Stegner House, which is maintained today by the Eastend Arts Council. It serves as a residence for visiting artists who come to practice their art and to enjoy the prairie scene.

 

Wallace Stegner, born in North Dakota, lived the formative years of his boyhood in Eastend. Eastend is a country town. I grew up in a country town, in western Kansas.

 

Stegner, after becoming a celebrated writer and establishing himself at the Stanford University school of creative writing,returned to his boyhood home to figure out where he came from. “I may not know who I am,” Stegner famously wrote, “but I know where I came from.” I do that sort of thing, and say that sort of thing, too.

 

I also do other, more creepy things. In Canberra, Australia, I climbed the ladder into the study of Australia’s late, great historian, Manning Clark, in order to examine his library and sit at his desk. I even laid my hand in the groove of the desk-top where his hand wrote the six-volume history of Australia with a dip pen.

 

It gets worse. On a visit to Austin, Texas, I sought out the home of Great Plains historian Walter Webb, which is now a realty office. I stole upstairs and sat at his desk, too. Then, over on Waller Creek, I wandered through the house of the legendary folklorist, J. Frank Dobie.

 

There is a little room in Dobie’s house with a cot in it, above which hangs a portrait of Pancho Villa. Dobie took his afternoon naps on this cot. One day he lay down for his nap and never got up. That’s why they call this the Death Alcove. While no one was looking, I lay down on Dobie’s cot. It was too short for me.

 

You can imagine, then, or maybe not, the anticipation I feel as I write that Suzzanne and I are going to live in the Wallace Stegner House for a couple of weeks. We have been invited by the Eastend Arts Council to be writers in residence. We have an essay about Stegner’s boyhood we are working on together. Each of also has another, individual writing project to work out.

 

As far as I’m concerned, though, the point of the residency is to live where Stegner lived, prowl the river bottom where he prowled, gaze on the Cypress Hills and the prairie skies the way he did. To live out the things he wrote about in his memoir, Wolf Willow. To seek out the things he wrote about, and to discover the things that he kept from us, because Stegner was a sneaky sonofagun.

 

There will be benefit, too, in eavesdropping on the morning coffee klatch at Charlie’s Café; observing the suckers as they cruise the shallows of the Frenchman River, back of the house; and watching the blacktail deer steal out of the coulees of  Corky’s Peak at dusk.

 

We’ll come to report in a few weeks. Probably.

At one time this was the finest house in Eastend, Saskatchewan. It was built by George Stegner, husband of Hilda, father of Wallace Stegner, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Wally’s room was upstairs, with a window facing west, toward the Cypress Hills.

 

I’m talking about the Wallace Stegner House, which is maintained today by the Eastend Arts Council. It serves as a residence for visiting artists who come to practice their art and to enjoy the prairie scene.

 

Wallace Stegner, born in North Dakota, lived the formative years of his boyhood in Eastend. Eastend is a country town. I grew up in a country town, in western Kansas.

 

Stegner, after becoming a celebrated writer and establishing himself at the Stanford University school of creative writing,returned to his boyhood home to figure out where he came from. “I may not know who I am,” Stegner famously wrote, “but I know where I came from.” I do that sort of thing, and say that sort of thing, too.

 

I also do other, more creepy things. In Canberra, Australia, I climbed the ladder into the study of Australia’s late, great historian, Manning Clark, in order to examine his library and sit at his desk. I even laid my hand in the groove of the desk-top where his hand wrote the six-volume history of Australia with a dip pen.

 

It gets worse. On a visit to Austin, Texas, I sought out the home of Great Plains historian Walter Webb, which is now a realty office. I stole upstairs and sat at his desk, too. Then, over on Waller Creek, I wandered through the house of the legendary folklorist, J. Frank Dobie.

 

There is a little room in Dobie’s house with a cot in it, above which hangs a portrait of Pancho Villa. Dobie took his afternoon naps on this cot. One day he lay down for his nap and never got up. That’s why they call this the Death Alcove. While no one was looking, I lay down on Dobie’s cot. It was too short for me.

 

You can imagine, then, or maybe not, the anticipation I feel as I write that Suzzanne and I are going to live in the Wallace Stegner House for a couple of weeks. We have been invited by the Eastend Arts Council to be writers in residence. We have an essay about Stegner’s boyhood we are working on together. Each of also has another, individual writing project to work out.

 

As far as I’m concerned, though, the point of the residency is to live where Stegner lived, prowl the river bottom where he prowled, gaze on the Cypress Hills and the prairie skies the way he did. To live out the things he wrote about in his memoir, Wolf Willow. To seek out the things he wrote about, and to discover the things that he kept from us, because Stegner was a sneaky sonofagun.

 

There will be benefit, too, in eavesdropping on the morning coffee klatch at Charlie’s Café; observing the suckers as they cruise the shallows of the Frenchman River, back of the house; and watching the blacktail deer steal out of the coulees of  Corky’s Peak at dusk.

 

We’ll come to report in a few weeks. Probably.

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