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Speaking Up

September 17, 1993| A look at noteworthy addresses in the Southland

Author Ken Kesey spoke on "The Legacy of Wallace Stegner" Tuesday at Claremont McKenna College. Stegner, who died in April, taught Kesey in the Stanford University creative writing program from 1958 to 1961 and in 1963. From Kesey's remarks:

On Wallace Stegner

"Wally didn't like me that much. At one point, I read a thing where he was writing about me and he said, 'I found Ken Kesey to be uneducable,' which must have been true because I'd never heard of the word. There was this (misunderstanding) that happened that caused the rift between us. . . . I was a second-year student in Wallace's class. . . . So I had that to stew over for a long time and what it was about me and certain of my friends that Stegner did not like. . . .

We were part of an exceptional group, there's no doubt about it. As time has gone by we've learned just how exceptional. All of the people who were part of that group are still very much in contact. Wallace Stegner had traveled across the Great Plains and reached the ocean and as far as he was concerned, that was far enough.

Certain of us didn't believe that was far enough, and when we went farther than that, he took issue with it, especially when it was not happening in the usual literary bailiwicks that he was accustomed to. . . .

"But the thing about Stegner is, he was able to put together a power that ruled literature in California--and in some ways the rest of this nation--for awhile. . . .

"I liked him, and I actually think that he liked me. It was just that we were on different sides of the fence.

"As soon as I took LSD, and he drank Jack Daniels, we drew the line between us right there. That was, as far as he was concerned, the edge of the continent and you're supposed to stop there.

"Well, I was younger than he was and I didn't see any reason to stop, so I kept tooling along forward, as did a lot of my friends. Ever since then, I have felt kind of impelled into the future by Wally, by his dislike of what I was doing, what we were doing. That was the kiss of approval in some way.

"When we got together and headed off on a bus to deal with the future of our synapses, we knew that Wally wasn't liking what we were doing and that was good enough for us.

"A few years ago, I taught a course at the University of Oregon. . . . I appreciated Wally a whole lot more after I had been a teacher. . . . Every writer I know teaches--at some point you have to, even if you don't have to. . . . You have to teach what you were taught, especially if you were taught by a great coach."

On the Mood Today

"I began to notice the people in the floods (this summer). There was a sanity in their faces because it wasn't anybody's fault. They couldn't point the finger at somebody and say, 'It was him, it was him, it was him.'

"I suddenly felt, in the last few months, the alleviation of this finger-pointing, where people were saying, 'It's their fault.'

"The stuff that's happened today is a marvelous thing. Somebody is finally saying, 'Hey, let's quit pointing fingers. There's enough blame to go around everywhere.'

"Sometimes things happen, (things) just happen . . . and it's not anybody's fault and we can get off each other's case.

"When Reginald Denny went over and hugged those two women, that was a marvelous step. When I was here a couple of years ago in the spring, before the trial of Rodney King . . . and I was here again shortly thereafter, you could study this thing like litmus paper. You could tell what was happening in the rest of the nation just by the way that people were on the streets.

"Today on the streets the people were different. And that's my report."

Looking Ahead

* Saturday: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) will speak at the Braemar Country Club, Tarzana, noon, sponsored by the National Women's Political Caucus/San Fernando Valley. (818) 705-0401.

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