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Prominent Western Author Inaugurates MSU-Bozeman's Stegner Chair

7/97 BOZEMAN - - T.H. Watkins, a prominent writer in the area of the American West and the environment, has been selected as the first Wallace Stegner Distinguished Professor of Western American Studies at Montana State University-Bozeman.

Watkins, former editor of Wilderness, the quarterly magazine of the Wilderness Society, will begin teaching at MSU-Bozeman this fall. Watkins is also the vice president of the Wilderness Society as well as the author, co-author or editor of 25 books and more than 250 articles. Watkins is currently working on a biography of the late Wallace Stegner, who was a prominent writer, writers' mentor and voice in Western American affairs. Watkins' book on Harold Ickes, Righteous Pilgrim, was a finalist for the National Book Award.

"There could be no higher honor than to be offered a chance to teach in Wallace Stegner's name in a landscape he once called home," said Watkins, who knew Stegner for 30 years and "venerated his work for even longer."

"Stegner's vision of a West with both the heart and hope to overcome the weight of history and embrace the possibilities of a sustainable future is one I share." Watkins said.

Watkins delivered the second annual Wallace Stegner Memorial Lecture at MSU in 1995. He said it is his mission to bring Stegner's message "wherever it still needs to be heard and understood."

James McMillan, acting dean of the College of Letters and Science at MSU-Bozeman, said that Watkins will enrich the university's Western American Studies curriculum.

"In the land-grant tradition, (Watkins) deals with important public problems and speaks with an eloquent public voice," McMillan said. "He is an ideal choice (for the first Stegner Chair)."

The Stegner Chair has been established at MSU-Bozeman to further understanding of the American West and to contribute to solving problems facing the region including conflicts over uses of land and resources. The chair will be occupied on a rotating one to three years basis.

The Stegner Chair is funded by an endowment which is part of the University's Second Century Campaign, a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the MSU Office of the Provost as well as the Dean of the College of Letters and Science at MSU-Bozeman.

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