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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007 4:13 pm
Discovery! Rediscovered, Disputed
Posted by: Keir Graff

The Associated Press (“Dispute over long-buried Stegner book,” by Lisa Leff) has another story about editing and disputed versions, this time involving Pulitzer Prize-winner Wallace Stegner:

SAN FRANCISCO – A small publishing house did not have to dig far to unearth a long-buried book Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Wallace Stegner wrote a half-century ago about oil exploration in the Middle East. 

The owner of Selwa Press, Timothy Barger, is the son of the former president of a U.S. company that hired Stegner in 1956 to pen a promotional piece about its history. Stegner, who is known as the literary laureate of the American West, was treated to two weeks in Saudi Arabia and paid about $16,000 for his effort.

For reasons that now are a subject of dispute between Barger and the late author’s son, however, an edited version of Stegner’s manuscript was not published in the Arabian American Oil Co.’s in-house magazine until 1967. It was not available to the public until Vista, Calif.-based Selwa put out a trade edition of “Discovery!” in September without permission from Stegner’s estate.

“His particular version of the manuscript was one that was cut up by one of their PR people. It was never put up for sale,” said Carl Brandt, Stegner’s longtime literary agent. “If Wally had wanted to publish that edition, he would have been on the phone with me saying, ‘Let’s go, and get Viking to do it.’”

(Apropos of nothing, what happened to the days when the AP summarized the story in the first paragraph?)

Many writers have paid some bills with a corporate history or two, and there’s no shame in that. But one wonders whether the work in question is an important enough part of Stegner’s legacy to even be worth fighting over. These things are, in some regards, extended advertisements–I’d be surprised if most of them weren’t owned in perpetuity by the company that commissioned them. But Stegner was certainly writer enough to turn even an advertisement into art, so maybe that’s what he did.


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