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STEGNER, Mary Stuart Page

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Wallace and Mary Stegner

STEGNER, Mary Stuart Page. (Dubuque, IA, 1911--Portola Valley, CA, May 15, 2010). Famed writer Wallace Stegner and his wife Mary Stuart Page Stegner lived a 'personal literary partnership of singular facility' according to author and historian, Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

The Stegners met at Augustana College while Wallace was working on his doctorate and serving as the acting head of the English Department. Mary was working in the university library. They married on September 1, 1934 in the garden behind Mary's parents' home in Dubuque.

Mary came to serve as the first reader of all of his husband's manuscripts. She watched mainly for problems of tone and inserted small check marks. She then read the passages aloud to her husband and discussed her thoughts with him. He used parts of her character in novels especially All the Little Live Things and The Spectator Bird.

The Stegners each served as Houghton Mifflin's West Coast editor in the post WORLD WAR II years. She edited a volume of O. Henry short stories and, as an accomplished violinist, played in a local symphony orchestra. Mary was an accomplished interior decorator and chose the Scandinavian furniture the Stegners preferred for the Jones Room in the Stanford (University) Library in Palo Alto, California where her husband's writing students met.

Nearly all of Wallace Stegner's books honored his wife. His last tribute in a collection of essays published one year before his death, read: "For Mary, who, like Dilsey, has seen the first and last, and been indispensable and enspiriting all the way." Dilsey was an African American cook in William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, who shows devoted care for the Compson family.

In the book Stealing Glances: Three Interviews with Wallace Stegner by James R. Hepworth, Wallace described his wife as central to his life and success.

"She has had no role in my life except to keep me sane, fed, housed, amused, and protected from unwanted telephone calls," Stegner said, "also to restrain me fairly frequently from making a horse's ass of myself in public, to force me to attend to books and ideas from which she knows I will learn something; also to mend my wounds when I am misused by the world, to implant ideas in my head and stir the soil around them, to keep me from falling into a comfortable torpor, to agitate my sleeping hours with problems that I would not otherwise attend to; also to remind me constantly (not by precept but by example) how fortunate I have been to live for fifty-three years with a woman that bright, alert, charming, and supportive."