Professor emeritus of history explores novelist’s life

Dr. Richard W. Etulain, professor emeritus of history at the University of New Mexico, came to Linfield on Feb. 22 and discussed the life of novelist Wallace Stegner, who Etulain believes to be the most important writer of the American West since John Steinback. Christina Shane/Staff writer

A collision of history and literature occurred Feb. 22, as students and scholars gathered in the Austin Reading Room of the Nicholson Library to hear a special guest lecture on a novelist’s life.

Thanks to the Ken and Donna Ericksen Endowed English Department Fund, nationally recognized scholars such as Dr. Richard W. Etulain, professor emeritus of history at the University of New
Mexico, are brought to Linfield’s campus.

Etulain gave his lecture, “Wallace Stegner: Wise Man of the American West,” bringing Western American history to life through the literary works of Wallace Stegner, who Etulain considers“ Our most important writer [of] the American West since John Steinbeck.”

Etulain has had an extensive career combining history and literature as he has been both president of the western History Association and the Western Literature

“Professor Etulain straddles the fence between the two disciplines,” David Sumner, professor of English and environmental  studies, said when introducing the historian.

“I was trying to ride two horses at one time,” Etulain said.

So was his fellow historian and novelist, Wallace Stegner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historiographer of the twentieth-century American West—who was the main subject of Etulain’s lecture.

Etulian’s lecture was teeming with academic stories—many of which were personal experiences with Stegner himself. In 1995, Etulain published “Stegner: Conversations on History and Literature,” which features intimate conversations between the two scholars.

His interviews encompassed not only historical and literary discourse, but also addressed environmentalism—a philosophy that Stegner reinforced in many of his novels.

“I thought the most interesting part was the fact that Stegner was fairly successful despite not publishing
novels under one specific genre,” freshman Summer Yasoni said.

Dr. Etulain addressed those who are familiar with his work and desire more information, as well as those who had never heard of him, which represented a fair amount of those who attended.

Roughly one-third of the audience raised their hand when asked if they had previously known the works of Stegner.

“I tried to show Linfield students and faculty members how much [Stegner] has contributed to our understanding of the American West,” Etulain said.

Etulain’s most recent work, “Abraham Lincoln and Oregon Country Politics in the Civil War Era,” is expected to be published next year.

Christina Shane/
Staff reporter
Christina can be reached at

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