Stegner’s Sense of Place

This morning I’m thinking about the essay “Finding the Place: a Migrant Childhood” by Wallace Stegner. I’ve gone on about how much I admire Stegner’s writing style focusing on nature and also his use of long, complex sentences–these remind me of Richard Hugo–and this essay was from a book of essays I bought in Colorado Springs last year I’ve just gotten around to reading. In the essay Stegner recounts how he grew to be a writer and also a writer of place. He writes on how while growing up he was unaware he was a writer of the west–that’s just where he grew up. Like anyone, he had no sense of it ‘while it was happening’, he recounts. And reading I was surprised just how many cities he’d lived in at such a young age. He writes: I was born on wheels. And he lists how he lived in twenty houses between the ages of twelve and twenty. Amazing.

And mostly I read Stegner’s fiction and mostly I read fiction in general choosing fictive places created by real events. Though it is funny how I think of my family and my own upbringing in Colorado when I write fiction. And I have this thought quite often when I think of my own work–just how much of my own life I bring to fiction even though the characters are not real. I sometimes write on this weblog how I feel imaginary voices are calling to me but they aren’t imaginary. My Tio is real and my Abuelito is real–the conversations are fake but the people and places are real. As real as I can make them anyway from my imagination.  That paradox drives the prose.

Like Stegner I feel I can’t forget where I came from. I think about this when I buy a four dollar latte and how my Grandfather would lecture me. Or even the idea of becoming a teacher or a writer was sensible and the man approved in a way I was never comfortable with. As if I was choosing job security over creativity. I think about that all the time when I feel teaching is consuming my time.

Anyway, I admire how Stegner believes he returned to the west both literally and of course he returns figuratively in his work–in the descriptions of place and the in the creation of prose spaces. I also think I return to the small places of Colorado where I grew up when I write but also the past and also to all those unfinished or perhaps non-existent conversations I should have had in my youth.

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

One thought on “Stegner’s Sense of Place”

  1. I think that is why most of us do write, in a way–to have those conversations that could have been or sometimes should have been. And Franny loves Wallace Stegner too. She especially did this morning!

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