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Virtual lecture to introduce ‘the most famous Ogdenite you’ve never heard of’

By Deann Armes - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jan 20, 2022

Photo supplied, Stanford University Libraries, Special Collections. Used by permission of Mark DeVoto. Photo enhancement by Robert Lapine Photography.

A color photo of DeVoto, circa 1954.

American historian and conservationist Bernard DeVoto is the subject of a community lecture that will be livestreamed next Monday. Three DeVoto scholars will discuss the life and career of Utah’s first Pulitzer Prize winner and his contributions to the understanding of our region’s history.

This month marks the 125th anniversary of DeVoto’s birth in Ogden, on Jan. 11, 1897.

The event, “Three Portraits and One Subject: Ogden’s Bernard DeVoto,” is hosted by the Weber Historical Society and the Bernard DeVoto Commemoration Committee, the latter of which formed two years ago, as part of a yearlong celebration to honor Ogden’s literary giant.

Hailed by famed writer Wallace Stegner as “Utah’s most prominent writer,” Bernard Augustine DeVoto (1897-1955) left his Ogden roots for Harvard University as a young adult after his earlier education at Sacred Heart Academy, Ogden High School and a brief time at the University of Utah. Although he remained in the east throughout his life, the Wasatch region where he loved to explore the trails was forever his “home,” according to Stegner, and the Intermountain West was the focus of much of his work.

“Over the course of his illustrious writing career, DeVoto also became one of the nation’s most important and influential conservationists, inspiring a whole generation of what we call today environmentalists,” wrote Commemoration Committee Chair Scott Greenwell in an op-ed recently published by the Standard-Examiner. “And yet, for reasons that are as complicated as the man himself, he became a controversial and enigmatic figure back home — despised in some quarters, largely forgotten in others. How one of the nation’s most important writers and historians could be thus forgotten in his hometown is unfortunate, but hopefully that will change.”

Some highlights of DeVoto’s dynamic, sometimes controversial, literary career include a popular column in Harper’s Magazine for two decades, “The Easy Chair,” curator and editor of the best-selling Mark Twain’s papers, “Letters from the Earth,” “The Journals of Lewis and Clark” and the American West trilogy, one of which earned him the Pulitzer Prize for history (“Across the Wide Missouri”) and the National Book Award for nonfiction (“The Course of Empire”).

In an effort to ensure that DeVoto’s legacy is remembered in his hometown of Ogden and his native state, the Commemoration Committee teamed up with other individuals and organizations to plan a series of celebratory events throughout 2022.

Earlier this month, Mayor Mike Caldwell and the Ogden City Council passed and adopted a joint proclamation that declared Jan. 11, 2022, “Bernard Augustine DeVoto Day” in Ogden.

A community book discussion based on DeVoto’s “The Western Paradox: A Conservation Reader” is planned for March 24 at the Weber County Main Library. In April, WSU Special Collections brings a special exhibit titled “Conservation and Preservation of Ogden’s Natural Environment” to Ogden Union Station that will highlight DeVoto’s influential conservationism. And lastly, the author of the upcoming book release “This America of Ours: Bernard and Avis DeVoto and the Forgotten Fight to Save the Wild,” New York journalist Nate Schweber, will speak at the Trails Foundation of Northern Utah Author Dinner on Sept. 23 at The Monarch.

Monday’s lecture will include Val Holley, an independent historian from New York City, presenting “DeVoto’s Ogden Years”; “Historian of the American West” by David Rich Lewis, Ph.D., professor emeritus of history at Utah State University; and “Defender of Public Lands,” by Russell Burrows, Ph.D, professor of English at Weber State University.

The Bernard DeVoto Commemoration Committee was established to honor the life and legacy of DeVoto and raise public awareness of the “enormous contributions DeVoto has made to American letters, to the conservation of western lands and resources, and to the history of the American West.”

The lecture at 7 p.m. Monday is free and open to the public. Participants and viewers will be able to connect to the event via this link: https://weber.zoom.us/j/96568925258 (Meeting ID: 965 6892 5258)

Visit weber.edu/devotocommemoration for more information.


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