Utahns celebrate adventurous and literary life of Page Stegner, son of Wallace, who continued family passion for Utah's wild places

(Courtesy photo) Writer and conservationist Page Stegner rests alongside the San Juan River with his wife, Lynn, and daughter, Allison, in 1996. Page, son of famed Utah author Wallace Stegner, died Dec. 14, 2017.

Page Stegner, author and conservationist who helped the University of Utah secure volumes of documents by his father, Wallace Stegner, died last month in Reno, Nev.

Stegner, 80, helped facilitate creation of the Wallace Stegner Center for environmental studies at the university’s S.J. Quinney School of Law, and was a recurring presence in Utah’s literary scene.

“He was committed to protecting Utah’s wild landscape and key to continuing the Stegner tradition in our state,” said Dave Livermore, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Utah Field Office.

Page Stegner was born in Salt Lake City in 1937 and was Wallace and Mary Stegner’s only child. He grew up in California and Vermont, and studied history and literature at Stanford University, where his father taught. Page Stegner went on to direct the creative writing program at the University of California-Santa Cruz.

But Page regularly sojourned to Utah, which his wife, author Lynn Stegner, describes as “his home turf, his heart, his soul.”

Stegner thrilled in the waterways of Utah and far beyond, whether casually floating between Desolation Canyon’s towering red rock walls or negotiating crocodiles on the Orinoco in South America, where he worked a stint with the Peace Corps in Venezuela and Ecuador. Livermore recalled a trip down the San Juan River, where Stegner “knew every turn.”

“He was an accomplished river guide and great camper and raconteur and really at his best on the river,” Livermore said.

As a writer, Page Stegner enjoyed the mentorship of his Pulitzer-winning father, but only took one class with him at Stanford.

“His father, being a very exacting professor — especially of his son — wanted to give Page a ‘B’ on the course, but all the [teachers’ assistants] protested and said he deserved an A,” Lynn recounted.

The father-son pair developed a collaborative working relationship. Page often edited Wallace’s material, Lynn said, and he went on to establish himself in a writing career that spanned fiction, literary nonfiction, literary criticism, and environmental ethics. His work appeared in the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, The Atlantic and Esquire. In the 1980s, he received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

In the 1990s, Page Stegner worked to secure Wallace Stegner’s personal papers and writings for the University of Utah’s Marriott Library, advocating for the transfer of a number of documents from Stanford to the U.’s prized collection, said Bob Keiter, director of the Wallace Stegner Center at the U.’s law school.

Page Stegner also threw his support behind the Stegner Center, which Keiter helped to found in 1995, speaking at its events and helping to develop support networks.

“When we conceived of the idea of establishing the center for land resources & environment at the University’s college of law, Page was the first person that I contacted,” Keiter said. “Page recognized that this was an appropriate home for a center that was committed the multi-disciplinary study of the environment, land, and water resources. ... We carried on the tradition with Page as our biggest cheerleader over the years.”

Page Stegner died Dec. 14. A memorial celebration will take place July 2018 in Greensboro, Vermont, where Page spent his summers and where he built a cabin of trees he and Wallace grew from saplings, Lynn said.

“Wally used to say we didn’t build a house, we grew a house,’” Lynn said.