Montana State University

New Stegner professor to hit the ground running

October 5, 2006 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service


David Quammen (Photo by Lynn Donaldson).   High-Res Available

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David Quammen, the new Wallace Stegner Professor in Western American Studies at Montana State University, will be busy from the moment he takes on his role in January, said Brett Walker, head of the MSU Department of History and Philosophy.

Quammen will be the keynote speaker for the Michael P. Malone Memorial Conference to be held Jan. 17-21 at Chico Hot Springs, Walker said. While there, he will also train graduate students in developing research topics and writing compelling papers. Later in the spring, Quammen will present the annual Wallace Stegner Lecture and help arrange at least one public lecture by one of his prominent friends. Throughout the spring, Quammen will meet informally with MSU graduate students in the College of Letters and Science.

"We could think of no better person than David," Walker said about Quammen's selection as the third Stegner Professor. "We want people who are much like Wallace Stegner -- people who are committed to writing well and talking about the predominant issues of our time."

Stegner was a novelist, historian and conservationist who was often called the "dean of Western writers." Deceased in 1993, he won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. The Wallace Stegner Chair in Western American Studies was established in his honor in 1997 to honor more than half a century of the wisdom and commitment that he contributed to Western culture and society.

Quammen will fill the endowed chair during the spring semester and may continue through the 2007-08 academic year if funding is available, Walker said. At the same time, he will continue his career as a freelance writer, author and speaker. Quammen was recently named a contributing writer for National Geographic. He was a Rhodes Scholar and has degrees from Yale University and Oxford University. He has published 11 books, including "The Reluctant Mr. Darwin," and "The Song of the Dodo." He has been published in many national magazines and won numerous awards, including an honorary doctorate from MSU in 2000.

Praising Quammen for his "Stegneresque" qualities, Walker said Quammen writes eloquently about complex subjects in a way that general audiences can understand.

"I consider him to be one of the finest science writers of our generation," Walker said. "He takes incredibly complicated topics and talks about them in a very compelling way."

MSU will benefit from Quammen's energy, creativity and national recognition, as well, Walker continued. It was Quammen's idea to hold a "Friends of the Stegner Chair" lecture, for example. Potential speakers could include Jane Goodall, the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees, and other prestigious people Quammen knows through his travels and professional activities.

"It's hugely flattering to begin with to be invited to fill the Stegner Chair," Quammen said recently from his Bozeman home. "Stegner is a figure that I respect so much, both as a fiction writer and a non-fiction writer."

Quammen added that he has had informal relationships with several MSU departments, but he welcomed the opportunity to work with the university on a formal basis.

"It's an honor I take very seriously," Quammen said. "It's an opportunity to do some things in terms of speaking to people and connecting people."

Quammen was preceded in the chair by Tom Watkins and Alexander Saxton, both prominent Western authors.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu