Some Thoughts on the Sowell Collection from Adam Houle

I worked with Diane in the Sowell Collection while finishing my PhD in English. My time with the Collection found me processing Susan Brind Morrow’s fascinating, intricate, and often delightful papers. There, in a stack of typed draft work marked up in pencil, I’d find a grocery list. One list in particular, illuminated with small doodles of flowers, struck me then, as now, like a poem. There was bread and milk, of course, but there were rose hips and apple wine vinegar and the phrase “place settings” with a few well-traced questions marks, as if the issue were a pressing one, and she truly didn’t know how many she needed or if they were needed at all.Image0004

I organized, I collated, I puzzled over relationships. I took my time and I took it seriously. Here were hundreds of pages of early draft work for Wolves & Honey and The Names of Things; here, hard Sharpie lines through paragraph after paragraph. I was witness to a mind at work, a mind and a heart and a thousand threads of narrative and thought and feeling she had waded through to write her books, to get it a little bit right. It was an honor to pull the document boxes from storage and spread my findings at the desk. It taught me about hesitation and doubt. I considered her revisions, imagining the desk she worked at. Was she distracted by revisions at the party mentioned in a brief note from a National Geographic editor? I wanted to understand how these particular books came together. Who said what and where?  Where are the fortunate accidents and where are the struggles? I had the chance to peel back the cover’s cover, and what I found was a vast mind and a thoughtful heart. I found poems translated into English from Arabic with her own thoughts jotted in pen below the steady-handed writing. From my small, cluttered—but very clean–office in the Special Collections Library, I worked for the future and while Texas Tech paid my stipend, I was working too for Susan Brind Morrow, doing the necessary work to help contextualize hers. Someone, I knew, is going to need to read this stuff one day, and it was my job to put it right for them, those future researchers and poets, that scholar down the line just now coming into focus.Names of Things

I don’t believe I know Susan Brind Morrow better for my work with the Sowell Collection. Rather, I know a writer’s long shuffling walk toward a finished book. And as I ordered, structured, fretted over, despaired for, celebrated, castigated, quit and picked back up the work of my own book, I thought of the Sowell Collection. There’s that mid-20s me in awe of the product I read but equally in love with the process I found—the mess of it, the necessary hope of it.13. S.Brind Morrow


My time with the Sowell Collection has made me more patient as a writer and a teacher. It’s a messy business, this getting it right on the page. All draft work, I tell my students, matters. It’s leading somewhere, which might be nowhere, but who knows what the circling back might teach us about ourselves, our world, and—perhaps more humble and all the better for it—the graceful sounds of a sentence just so, one small song and the songs beyond that.

Adam Houle por



Adam Houle lives in Darlington, South Carolina and teaches English and Creative Writing at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics. He is the author of STRAY (Lithic Press, 2017), and his poems have appeared in AGNI, Shenandoah, Blackbird, and elsewhere.



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Beyond the Llano: Catching Up with Bonnie Hanson Cordell

Bonnie Hanson Cordell assisted Diane for two years with cataloging in the Sowell Collection as a student in the English and German programs at Texas Tech University, working on the collections of Gretel Ehrlich, David James Duncan, and Susan Brind Morrow. During that time, Bonnie served as Secretary for the German Club, joined a writing group, and published several poems in the TTU student literary journal The Harbinger. Bonnie graduated Summa Cum Laude from Texas Tech University in 2008 with a dual degree in German and English with a concentration in Creative Writing.

Bonnie hiking in Wyoming.
Courtesy of Bonnie Hanson Cordell.

After graduation, Bonnie enrolled at the University of Wyoming, where she served as the Graduate Representative to the English Department and taught First Year Composition and Literature, earning a Promoting Intellectual Engagement in the First Year Award for teaching. Bonnie focused her graduate research on Modernism and Affect Theory and earned her Master’s Degree in English Literature, Rhetoric, and Composition in 2013.

Bonnie and Raider Red, TTU’s mascot.
Courtesy of Bonnie Hanson Cordell.

Bonnie worked as the University of Wyoming Alumni Association Senior Membership and Network Coordinator before moving back to Lubbock to take a position as the Assistant Director of the Texas Success Initiative. Bonnie is passionate about helping underprepared students succeed at Texas Tech and after graduation. She is glad to be back in West Texas with her husband, Dustin, her cat, Gus, and her dog, Molly, and lots of opportunities for reading, hiking, and fishing. Bonnie looks forward to plugging back in to the vibrant Lubbock writing community, including the Sowell Conference.

(Bonnie, Kathleen, Emerson, and Andrew were in one of the first Creative Writing-Poetry classes that I taught at TTU.  I learned from them, of course.  DHW)


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Beyond the Llano: Catching up with Clara Bush Vadala (Feb. 7)

Clara gives the Guns-Up, Thumbs-Up.

Clara gives the Guns-Up, Thumbs-Up.
Courtesy of Clara Bush Vadala.

Clara Bush Vadala worked with Diane as a student researcher in the Sowell Collection while a student with the Honors College at Texas Tech University. As an Environmental Humanities major, Clara spent many class hours studying the authors and manuscript materials in the collection with Professor Kurt Caswell. Clara earned a minor in English with a focus in poetry.

Vadala with bird.

Courtesy of Clara Bush Vadala.

After graduating from Texas Tech in 2014, Clara moved to College Station to study veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She is currently a third year vet student studying small animal and exotic animal medicine. She also participates in mentorship programs and research projects as a student at the vet school, and serves as President of the local chapter of the Wildlife Disease Association at Texas A&M and as an officer of her class serving as a representative of the Texas Veterinary Medical Association.

Vadala with armadillo

Courtesy of Clara Bush Vadala.

Even though she is very involved in veterinary medicine now, Clara has not left her writing behind! Her first book of poetry, Prairie Smoke: Poems from the Grasslands, will be released in a few weeks by Finishing Line Press. The work Clara did in the Sowell Collection has informed much of her writing to this day, and now, she is also working on a collection of “veterinary medicine” poems in topics ranging from parasites, to surgery, to reproductive medicine. (Look for some of these poems in the April 2017 Archivation Exploration).

Clara also writes for the Merck Vet Student Stories blog about her experiences as a veterinary student at Texas A&M. She lives in College Station with her husband, a music teacher in Bryan, Texas, her two dogs, Lulu and Zeus, her cat Treble, and her cockatiel, Kenneth. Clara has presented at every Sowell Conference so far, and we look forward to seeing her again this year and celebrating her new book!

Vadala and family

Clara, her husband, Lulu and Zeus.
Courtesy of Clara Bush Vadala.

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Beyond the Llano: Catching up with Sara Roberts (Feb. 3)


At El Capitan, Guadalupe Mountains. Courtesy of Sara Roberts.

Sara Roberts, Diane’s former assistant, worked at the Sowell Collection for two and a half years. Sara received a Bachelor’s of English Literature with a concentration in poetry in 2011 from Murray State University; however, working at the Sowell Collection catalyzed her interest in archives, as well as a love of environmental studies and literature.

At Pikes Peak.  Courtesy of Sara Roberts.

At Pikes Peak.
Courtesy of Sara Roberts.

She is now office associate of Digital Initiatives & Special Collections at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). This department is made up of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, Scholarly Communications and Archives & Special Collections. Sara spends ten hours per week processing collections at the UNL University Archive, including collections by Ted Kooser and Willa Cather scholar Sue Rosowski. She is also pursuing a Masters of Library Science at Emporia State University with a concentration in archival studies. In addition, she is currently working on a project that focuses on restoring and digitizing Nebraska military marching band reels held at the UNL Archives and Special Collections.

At Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, Nebraska  Courtesy of Sara Roberts.

At Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, Nebraska
Courtesy of Sara Roberts.

Apart from a full-time position and a graduate degree, Sara volunteers at Lincoln City Public Libraries and travels, hikes and reads when she can in between semesters. Her husband, Caleb and their cat Dexter live in Lincoln, Nebraska. Although she and Caleb grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, they are slowly getting used to calling the Midwest home.

We hope to see Sara (and Caleb) at the 2017 Sowell Conference this April!

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2016 Sowell Conference Preview

Robert Michael Pyle

“Our Lovely World, Our Tardy Rage: Fifty Years of Writing for Nature”

A butterfly lands on Bob's nose.

A butterfly lands on Bob’s nose.

Robert Michael Pyle is a professional writer and lepidopterist. He attended University of Washington (B.S. and M.S.) and Yale University (Ph.D., School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 1976). He has published 17 books including Mariposa Road: The First Butterfly Big Year which won the 2011 Washington State Book Award and Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land which won the 1987 John Burroughs Medal. Other awards include the Washington State Book Award (2008) and the National Outdoor Book Award (2007) for Sky Time in Gray’s River: Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place. His latest poetry collection Evolution Genus Iris was published by Lost Horse Press in May 2014, and we’ve heard from Bob that another poetry collection is forthcoming.

With Arthur Kruckeberg at Sun Mountain.

With Arthur Kruckeberg at Sun Mountain.

Between 1997 and 2008, Pyle wrote the popular column “The Tangled Bank” for Orion Magazine and Orion Afield. The collected essays were published in book form as The Tangled Bank: Writings from Orion by Oregon State University Press in 2012. Each essay explores Darwin’s contention that elements of the living world are “endlessly interesting and ever evolving” with subjects ranging from a life without screens to independent bookstores to magpies.

Bob the Butterfly Man!

Bob the Butterfly Man!

In 2014 Pyle was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. He founded the Xerces Society and has served as a butterfly conservation consultant for Papua New Guinea and as Northwest Land Steward for The Nature Conservancy. In addition to the Sowell Conference, he will speak at Texas Pollinator Powwow on Saturday, April 23 at the Museum of Texas Tech University.

The 2016 Sowell Conference will be held April 21-23. Other speakers include David James Duncan, John Lane, Barry Lopez, James Perrin Warren, Toni Jensen, and Kurt Caswell. Photographs are from the Robert Michael Pyle Papers, 1874-2014 and undated at the Southwest Collections/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University.

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We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

As the holiday season approached, I remembered that there were some Christmas cards in Annick Smith’s collection (1940-2000), sent to her by the children of Elinore Pruitt Stewart.   Smith has a long association with films and filmmaking. I remember seeing her movie “Heartland” when I was an undergraduate at the University of Kansas. This award winning film is based on Elinore Stewart’s letters which were published as Letters of a Woman Homesteader and recounted her life in Wyoming in 1909.   The Christmas cards, seen below, are from Elinore’s children.    Image0014Image0012Image0009Image0010
From Box 1, folder 24.

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Founding Authors Series: William Kittredge

Who Owns the West CoverWilliam Kittredge came to writing in his mid-30s having already lived one sort of life and career on a ranch in southeastern Oregon. This experience gives him a somewhat different take on the West and our relationship to the natural world evident in such works as Owning It All (1987), Hole in the Sky (1992), Who Owns the West?(1996), Taking Care (1999) and The Nature of Generosity (2000). Several themes run repeatedly throughout these major works: ownership and stewardship, compassion and empathy, story-making and storytelling. As a brief introduction to Kittredge’s work, I want to consider, in particular, two of these themes – ownership and story-making – as they appear in Who Owns the West?

 “…it’s one of our customs, reverence for having, owning…”

Much of our mythology of the West, according to Kittredge, depends upon the idea of ownership, most recognizably, of land. People came west for land – to stake a claim to the physical. Owning that land meant possessing, controlling and appropriating the natural resources – the grass, the water, the timber and the minerals. We made the West over, and we found worth and identity in that work. However useful that kind of ownership and its narrative have been in shaping our Western heritage, it is nevertheless aggressive. Aggressive, not only in context of the violence between Native Americans and Anglo-Saxon settlers, but in man’s presumptuousness that the land and its resources were there for the taking, to be manipulated and used as he saw fit. Kittredge reminds us in the prologue, “Not long ago in the American West it was easy to think we were living in harmony with an inexhaustible paradise. That became, for many, a habit of mind, hard to shake.” But we must shake that habit of mind Kittredge insists, and to do so, we must own our past – our stories and our mistakes.

“We are all ‘making story.’ It is the most important thing we do.”

Those stories – where we find them, how with inhabit them, how they (should or could) evolve – preoccupy Kittredge throughout much of Who Owns the West? Story-making is an iterative process. We must discard the stories that are no longer useful, reimagine stories that allow us to see the world for what it is and how it could be, and then choose to tell and inhabit those stories. Specifically, we must “invent a new story for ourselves, in which we live in a society that understands killing the natural world as a way of killing each other.” Once again we find an intersection between stories and the natural world, and Kittredge’s writing, his own ongoing story-making, finds a home in the greater Sowell project.


Kittredge, William. Who Owns the West? San Francisco: Mercury House, 1996.

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