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Critical acclaim began early in Stegner’s writing career. His first novel Remembering Laughter originally appeared in Redbook magazine. Soon after, it won a Novelette Contest sponsored by the publisher Little, Brown, and Company, who relesed the book in 1937. After several more publications Stegner wrote The Big Rock Candy Mountain. The epic, although fictional, was based on personal experience and inspired novelist Sinclair Lewis to describe Stegner in The Saturday Review of Literature as one of the most promising young writers in America.
Stegner produced The Big Rock Candy Mountain while teaching at Harvard University, after short stays at the University of Utah and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He was affectionately known as “Wally” and would spend time sitting with his students in the Campus House. Many of those he educated would go in to have prolific careers themselves, including Edward Abbey, Robert Haas, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Scott Turow.