Wallace Stegner: “Does a university environment dry up writers?”

From the Archives in this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review:

In this week’s issue, A. O. Scott writes about Wallace Stegner. In 1948, Stegner wrote for the Book Review about universities as a place for training writers.

One of the favorite American variants of the Ugly Duckling story is the tale of the young man who comes to some college with fire in his eye and Original Genius burning in his breast and is told after a few weeks that he will never be a writer, and will save himself and others much trouble if he will get into an occupation better suited to his talents. Whereupon the repudiated youngster goes out and confounds his critics, writes great books and demonstrates yet once more that the colleges are the home of fuddyduddy-ism and academic arrogance. Like Falstaff, he can say, “They hate us youth.”

And with just about as much justification, for these rejected young writers, common in folklore, are rare in fact. Even stock examples like Jack London and Stephen Crane didn’t have quite the experiences at California and Syracuse that legend says they did.

Does a university environment dry up writers? Are university teachers pedants who cannot recognize genius when it is right under their noses? Is there any value at all that writers cannot gain more quickly from life than from books?

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