Into the West
David Gessner’s latest book, All The Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West, is a roving examination of two literary icons. Abbey, also known as Cactus Ed, rose to fame with The Monkey-Wrench Gang, the 1975 novel that sparked an environmental movement that many labeled as domestic terrorism. Cutting a more polished figure, Stegner founded the Stanford Creative Writing Program and dedicated much of his work—including Angle of Repose and Beyond the Hundredth Meridian—to debunking myths about the American West. His literary influence led to the passage of the national Wilderness Act in 1964.
Returning to the West, a region he once called home, Gessner traces the lives of two writers defining opposite ends of the fight for conservation. He challenges our notion of what environmentalism looks like, and in doing so, draws a map to the middle ground.
As a former graduate student in creative writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, I took several courses with Gessner—one called “The Writing Life,” another dedicated to writing braided essays—and later wrote a thesis under his advisement. Right before the release of his new book, I spoke to him about Abbey and Stegner’s environmentalism, and how they've shaped his attitude on conservation in the modern age.