Wallace Stegner (1909-1993) was novelist, historian, biographer, essayist, short story writer, and champion of the American West. He was honored by both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Award for fiction. The American West as Living Space derives from three essays Stegner composed for the William W. Cook Lectures, given at the University of Michigan Law School in October, 1986. Of the arid land where we live and the people we are and hope to become, Stegner says . . .
the rootlessness that expresses energy and a thirst for the new and an aspiration toward freedom and personal fulfillment has just as often been a curse. Migrants deprive themselves of the physical and spiritual bonds that develop within a place and a society. Our migratoriness has hindered us from becoming a people of communities and traditions, especially in the West. It has robbed us of the gods who make places holy. It has cut off individuals and families and communities from memory and the continuum of time. It has left at least some of us with a kind of spiritual pellagra, a deficiency disease, a hungering for the ties of a rich and stable order. Not only is the American home a launching pad, as Margaret Mead said; the American community, especially in the West, is an overnight camp. American individualism, much celebrated and cherished, has developed without its essential corrective, which is belonging. Freedom, when found, can turn out to be airless and unsustaining. Especially in the West, what we have instead of place is space. Place is more than half memory, shared memory. Rarely do Westerners stay long enough at one stop to share much of anything.