He published his first novel, Lonesome Hero, in 1974 and his second, Last One Home, in 1988. Stenson's third novel, The Trade (2000), is a richly imagined recreation of western Canadian life during the fur trade. This was followed in 2003 by Lightning (2003), a novel set in the early days of cattle ranching in Alberta. Both The Trade and Lightning won the Grant MacEwan's Author's Prize and were nominated for the prestigious GILLER and Dublin IMPAC Prizes.
The Trade and Lightning both demonstrate Stenson's remarkable creative powers, as he simultaneously mythologizes and demythologizes Alberta's past. The novels have a near epic sweep and are full of memorable characters, but they are free of nostalgia. His works focus on the strength and the expansive lives of ordinary people, instead of the grand figures of Alberta's official history.
Before turning to historical fiction, Stenson's fiction in the 1980s generally featured urban contemporary settings and a humourous tone. During this time, Stenson published three collections of short stories: Three Times Five (with Beverly Harris and Gloria Sawai) (1984), Working Without a Laugh Track (1990), and Teeth (1994).
Stenson's numerous non-fiction works include The Story of Calgary (1994), RCMP: The March West (1999), and The Last Stack (2000). Things Feigned or Imagined (2002) is a guide to the writing of fiction. He is also the author of well over a hundred film and video scripts and has edited two collections of Alberta writing, Alberta Bound (1986) and The Road Home (1992).
Stenson was a founding member of the Writer's Guild of Alberta, serving as its president in 1996. Since 2001 he has been director of the Wired Writing Studio at the Banff Centre. He currently writes a regular humour and opinion column for Calgary-based Alberta Views magazine.
Author J.G. JOHANSEN