Texas Tech University

Leading Literary Journal Highlights Texas Tech's Sowell Collection

Glenys Young

August 20, 2015

The works of an associate professor and two undergraduate students are included.

Sowell Collection

The leading journal of literary and environmental studies has placed a special focus on Texas Tech University.

The journal Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (ISLE) included in its spring issue a large special section on the Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community and the Natural World.

“The Sowell Collection houses the papers – personal letters, research notes, diaries, photographs, manuscripts, etc. – of the most important American nature writers of the last 100 years,” said Sara Spurgeon, professor of Southwestern American literature and director of the Literature, Social Justice and Environment initiative in the Department of Englis. “Probably the best known are Barry Lopez, William Kittredge, Bill McKibben, David Quammen and Gretel Ehrlich. This is the premier collection of the papers of American nature writers anywhere. Any scholar researching these folks – and there are lots of them – uses the Sowell Collection.”

The section in ISLE includes an introduction by Kurt Caswell, an associate professor in the Honors College, and three essays he said are inspired by and representative of the work shared at the Sowell Conference.

The essays are “Adventure in Our Bones: A Study of Rick Bass' Relationship with Landscape” by Elizabeth Hash, a Texas Tech student majoring in environment and the humanities (EVHM), English and psychology; “Desert Rooting: Edward Abbey Calls Your Name” by Emma Barnes, a biology major with a minor in EVHM; and “Wolverine in the Archives” by James Warren, a professor at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.

The Sowell Conference, founded in 2011, is held every spring at Texas Tech and features readings, presentations and book signings by authors whose work is included in the Sowell Collection. It is one of the few academic conferences to welcome work by students and faculty.

“The Sowell Conference is unique in that it is a fairly small gathering where our featured speakers, such as Barry Lopez, David Quammen and Gretel Ehrlich, sit in the audience for the entire three days,” said Diane Warner, librarian for the Sowell Collection. “They sit side by side with the other members of the audience and listen to the papers of Texas Tech students. They offer encouragement, guidance and sometimes thoughtful critique. It is a unique experience for Texas Tech undergraduates, one that they treasure. For many students, this is their first experience giving a paper at a scholarly conference.”

Caswell said he is proud of the work students have done in his classes, but he also credits Warner and his colleagues in EVHM, Susan Tomlinson and Mark McGinley, calling it a team effort to have reached this level.

“To have ISLE and its parent organization, the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE), acknowledge and honor that work is a major highlight of my time at Texas Tech,” Caswell said. “Only two students are published in ISLE, but they represent a much greater number of excellent students writing excellent papers over the years. The students in my class conducting research in the Sowell Collection have been trained by Tomlinson and McGinley, as well as by me. And many of these students have worked closely with Barry Lopez, too, who has been highly engaged in their progress. He's such a light for them, and for the program. These are also very motivated, talented students to begin with. So it's really a triumph for all of us, and it feels fantastic.”

The conference and collection are named for Jim Sowell, a Texas Tech alumnus and former Board of Regents chairman who donated the funds to bring the works together into a collection and create the EVHM program.

“The journal ISLE has been the leading journal in the field of scholarship on nature writing and environmental literature for years,” Spurgeon said. “To have the work of a Texas Tech professor appear in ISLE is quite impressive. To have the work of a Texas Tech professor and Texas Tech students appear is a major coup. This is a highly prestigious, peer-reviewed journal that receives submissions from scholars around the world. They don't typically publish the work of students, especially not undergraduates. We get to brag like crazy about this.”

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