June 22, 2023
at Kimball Art Center (Zoom)
Event, Exhibition Programming, Kimball Art Center’s Book Club
Join us over Zoom for a conversation about history, memory, and the Western landscape with Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow on June 22nd at 6pm. The discussion will be led by Zak Breckenridge, a doctoral student studying Stegner and the literature of environmentalism at the University of Southern California.
Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier (1962) is Stegner’s most lyrical and formally adventurous work. In 1914, when he was five years old, Stegner’s family moved to a small village in Saskatchewan, just across the border from Montana. He spent the next five years of his childhood in one of the last “frontier” environments in North America, hunting pests, riding in horse-drawn carts, and attending a schoolroom above a pool hall. Aridity and bad luck eventually drove Stegner’s family from Saskatchewan, after which his father became a bootlegger based in Salt Lake City. Decades later, Stegner, now a historian and a novelist, returns to the frontier town of “Whitemud” in search of the region’s history and his own. He finds himself haunted by the smell of wolf willow, sensing that “A contact has been made, a mystery touched. For the moment, reality is made exactly equivalent with memory, and a hunger is satisfied.” The resulting book is a lyrical blend of history, memoir, and fiction. Supplementing his own recollections with historical research and a novelist’s imagination, Stegner leads his reader through a searching meditation on our relationship to the land, to the past, and to ourselves. Intimate, informative, and experimental, Wolf Willow is perhaps Stegner’s best book and serves as a great introduction to this important author’s work!
Zak Breckenridge is a writer, teacher, and scholar living in Los Angeles, where he is pursuing a Ph.D. in English at the University of Southern California. His research focuses on the literature of the U.S. environmental movement via the histories of science and bureaucratic institutions. His other research interests include documentary film, aesthetic theory, and the history of materialism. In 2019, he received a M.A. in Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah after writing a thesis on Wallace Stegner’s and Joan Didion’s California novels. Outside of academia, he has worked as a proofreader and copyeditor for Utah Diné Bikeyah, as a compost and recycling educator for Salt Lake County, and has taught English to Austrian high school students. His writing has previously appeared in The Common, Colloquium Magazine, and the Salt Lake Tribune, among other places. In his free time, he likes to hike, play music, and watch old movies.
Book Discussion: Wolf Willow RSVP