Wilber Stevens

The White River Narrows Archeological District, approximately 90 miles south of Ely, Nevada, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The area is especially scenic because of its rhyolite cliffs on which much of the Archaeological District's rock art is situated.

One of the more well-known rock panels found at the White River Narrows is the subject of multiple interpretations. The panel itself is very large and follows the natural contours of the cliff face for perhaps as much as 16 ft. (5 m) or more. The motifs include large linear features, depictions of large mammals (common for the eastern part of the state), and a number of motifs that might be representations of human footprints, as well as large numbers of non-representational motifs. The inscriptions that prove the most difficult to evaluate are “rakes” (a series of vertical lines that touch, or are struck through by, a horizontal line). R. F. Heizer and T. R. Hester interpreted the rakes as the depiction of a “game drive,” with the lines representing some kind of trap for the animals. There is little ethnographic evidence, however, to support the idea that aboriginal game drives included the construction of “picket” style fences, which makes that reading of the imagery unconvincing. Grace Burkholder thought that the rakes were a solar marker, with the petroglyphs aligning during major celestial events, such as the summer solstice. Yet there is no definitive interpretation.

Unfortunately, the unprotected panel was vandalized twice with graffiti—the names “Ricky” in 1976 and “Steve” in 1977. This damage permanently impacted the experience of future visitors. Vandalism of archaeological sites is against Federal Law and is punishable by large fines and imprisonment.

When Wilber Stevens was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame in 1992, he was called "one of the few men who can speak in one breath about Chaucer, Los Angeles theater, and the demise of civilization in the late twentieth century."

Arthur Wilber Stevens was born August 16, 1921, in Brooklyn, New York. He was four-time recipient of Fulbright fellowships that took him to Thailand, Brazil, Poland, and Germany. A poet and longtime editor of Interim—the literary journal still housed in the English Department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas—Stevens' colorful career spanned fifty-one years and several continents.

Stevens was educated at Brown University, the University of London, and the University of Washington in Seattle, where he received his PhD in English and American Literature in 1957. He was initially hired at UNLV as dean of the College of Arts and Letters. After stepping down as dean, he began his professorship in the English Department at UNLV in 1975.

In 1944, Stevens founded Interim while pursuing graduate studies in Seattle. He edited the journal for the next ten years. Writing for The South Dakota Review in 1968, he recalled naming the magazine Interim "because it was wartime. Everything seemed to be in an interim unresolved." Though Stevens wrote that Interim was initially meant to be a "regional" publication, he also suggested that "place is actually concept and not location. What was place to Interim? First, it was the city of Seattle, not yet the metropolis that it is today. When I left Seattle for good, I found that I did not want to leave it there."

After resurrecting Interim at UNLV in 1986, Stevens, as editor, published many of the most important poets and writers of the latter half of the twentieth century, including F. Scott Fitzgerald (posthumously), Malcolm Cowley, Henry Miller, James Wright, Kenneth Patchen, Josephine Miles, and William Carlos Williams. Stevens continued to edit Interim, with the assistance of his colleagues in the English Department at UNLV, until his death.

Stevens' own poetry, collected in From the Still Empty Grave (1995), demonstrates, as poet X.J. Kennedy artfully states in the preface to the book, "his unmistakable westernness ... a certain impatience with fences and barriers." Stevens' belief in the idea of place as a concept and not a location is evident in his poetry. Many of the sections in From the Still Empty Grave are titled after place names, beginning with "Brooklyn and Brown," with stops along the way at "Seattle," "Idaho," "Burma, and "Las Vegas." Place serves as a marker for Stevens, but his quest as a poet seems to be more invested in the pursuit of belief—his as well as that of the many characters described in the book who share the human difficulty of finding and maintaining belief. Indeed, the characters are many and colorful—a disillusioned opera star ("Another Poem on the Tearing Down of the Metropolitan Opera House"), a visiting poet ("Visiting Poet"), Christ ("Christ in Burma"), Sammy Davis, Jr. ("The Night Sammy Davis Jr. Couldn't Go On") and others.

A drama critic for the Las Vegas Review Journal for twenty-three years, Stevens was also a reviewer for Billboard Magazine from 1947-1959. He was a Nevada resident from 1973 until his death from cancer in 1996.

Further Reading

A. Wilber Stevens. From the Still Empty Grave: Collected Poems. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 1995.
A. Wilber Stevens. The World Is Going to End Up in Burma. Carson City, NV: Hardwood Press, 1988.
"Interim" literary magazine, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. http://www.interimmag.org/.

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