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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Founding Authors Series: Barry Lopez

“Whatever a writer sets down can harm or help the community of which he or she is a part.”

Barry Lopez, About This Life

About this Life_Photos1.0In 1998 Barry Lopez published About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory, a collection of intimate and immersive essays. While not his most well-known work, About This Life seems a fitting place to begin our discussion of Lopez; for, in these essays Lopez establishes his writing as part of a tradition and himself as part of a community in which a writer does not – indeed cannot – separate humanity and nature, and that inseparability is at the very heart of the Sowell Collection.

Introducing the collection with “The Voice,” Lopez traces his intellectual and emotional path toward writing, finding continuity in the disparity between the rural landscape of his California childhood and the urban privilege of his New York adolescence. His earliest memories, memories Lopez once dismissed – a garden with flowers as tall as his three-year-old self, “the glare of light on the harbor and the snap of white sails coming taut in a breeze,” (4) the urge to go somewhere, to do something – prove formative, his writing eventually driven by “a desire to describe what happened, what [he] saw, when [he] went outside” (10). Lopez tells us he has chosen the following essays “to give a sense of how one writer proceeds, and [that] they are reflective of [his] notion of what it means to travel” (14).

In light of Lopez’s stated purpose for these essays, I want to consider the closing essay of Part II, “The Whaleboat.” Here, Lopez moves between “two separate realities, inside and out” (176) – that is he moves between interior and exterior space using the model whaleboat as a sort of anchor. He connects the intricacy of the boat, the intelligence and skill required to create such a thing (both model and original), and the need to revisit the world around us, to rediscover something “too long unremembered, or [to] see it as if for the first time” (177).

The essay may at times seem a catalog of the objects in his writing room, of the plants and wildlife outside his window, of the whaleboat’s details. In his notes for this essay, you will find lists of the very same. You will also find a rough sketch of the space – where his desk sits in relation to the window, where the land slopes down toward the road, where trees and open fields lie. But, Lopez isn’t simply cataloguing his environment. He is writing place, evoking the inextricable connections between the physical and psychological spaces in which he writes:

“Here in the room, I suppose, is to be found the interior world of the book; but it opens upon a world beyond the windows, where no event has been collapsed into syntax, where vocabulary, it seems, is infinite. The indispensable connection for me lies with the open space that lets the breath of every winter storm, the ripping wind and its pelting rain, enter this room” (187).

About this Life_Photos2.0


Barry Lopez Papers, 1964-2001 and undated, Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas.

Barry Lopez Photograph Collection, 1964-2001 and undated, Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas

Lopez, Barry. About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

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Introduction: Founding Authors Series

For the rest of 2015, we will highlight each of the Sowell Collection’s founding authors: Barry Lopez, William Kittredge, Annick Smith, David Quammen, and Pattiann Rogers.

 Barry Lopez

Essayist, author, and short story writer, Barry Lopez was born in 1945 in Port Chester, New York; grew-up in southern California and New York City; and attended collegeBarry_smile-210 in the Midwest. He has lived in rural western Oregon since 1968.

Since leaving graduate school in 1970, Lopez has been a full-time writer. His work often explores the relationship between physical landscape and human culture, and issues of identity, ethics, and intimacy. His writing has appeared in Harper’s, Granta, The Georgia Review, Orion, Outside, The Paris Review, Manoa, and in dozens of anthologies and “best of” collections. His major nonfiction works include Arctic Dreams, for which he received the National Book Award, and Of Wolves and Men, a National Book Award finalist. His most recent books are Home Ground: Language for the American Landscape (2006), a reader’s dictionary of regional landscape terms, and Outside (2014), a collection of six stories with engravings by Barry Moser.

Lopez has received fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the John Burroughs Society, the Orion Society, and other institutions. He travels widely and has collaborated with a number of artists on a variety of projects in theater, music, and the fine arts. He has a long relationship with Texas Tech University and has been a Distinguished Visiting University Scholar. Visit his website, and explore the collection.

 William Kittredge

William Kittredge was born in 1932 and grew up on a working ranch in the Warner Valley of southeastern Oregon. He graduated from Oregon State University in 1954 and from the William-KittredgeWriters’ Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1969. He taught in the English Department at the University of Montana from 1969 until his retirement in 1997.

He is the author of numerous essays, short stories and novels, including the Cord series of western novels written under the pseudonym Owen Rountree. His essay collections, Owning it All (1987) and Who Owns the West? (1995), map the emotional terrain of the modern West, pursuing and dismantling the accepted moral code of independence, private ownership and resource exploitation. His first novel, The Willow Field¸ published to wide critical acclaim in 2006.

Kittredge’s awards include a Stegner Fellowship to attend the writing program at Stanford University, two National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowships, two Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Awards, a National Governor’s Award for the Arts, the PEN West Award, the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Charles Frankle Prize for service to the humanities, and the Neil Simon Award from American Playhouse. Explore the collection.

 Annick Smith

  Born in Paris in 1936 to Hungarian emigres, Annick Smith was raised in Chicago and lived briefly in Seattle. In 1964 Smith moved to Montana, eventually settling on a 163 acre ranch in the Blackfoot River valley. After her husband’s death in 1974, Smith remannick_smithained on the ranch to raise her sons. She still lives in Montana with her partner William Kittredge.

A filmmaker first, Smith was executive producer for the prize-winning independent film, Heartland (1979) based on the frontier diaries of Wyoming pioneer, Elinore Randall Stewart. She was co-producer, with William Kittredge, for Robert Redford’s film adaptation of Norman MacLean’s novella, A River Runs Through It (1992). She has produced several documentaries including a series about Indian tribes in the Inland Northwest, “The Real People,” for public television, and a portrait of poet Richard Hugo, “Kicking the Loose Gravel Home.” Smith was a founding member of the Sundance Film Institute and the Independent Features Project.

Her writing has appeared in Orion, Outside, Audubon, National Geo Traveler, Travel & Leisure, and the New York Times. Smith’s collection of essays, Homestead, was published by Milkweed Editions in 1995. Her book, Big Bluestem, Journey into the Tall Grass, which won the Oklahoma Book Award for nonfiction and the Denver Public Library’s Bancroft prize for western history, was published by Council Oak Books (Tulsa) and The Nature Conservancy in 1996. Smith’s latest book, Crossing the Plains with Bruno, is forthcoming from Trinity University Press in November 2015. Explore the collection.

 David Quammen

Science, nature and travel writer, David Quammen was born in 1948 in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1970 he graduated from Yale where he was a protégé of novelist and poet Robert Penn David_QuammenWarren. He has lived in Montana for the last 40 years.

Quammen began as an unsuccessful writer of spy novels, but by 1981 had switched to nonfiction with his column in Outside magazine. His work has since appeared in Harper’s, National Geographic, Esquire, The Atlantic, Powder, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and the New York Review of Books. His first full-length nonfiction book, The Song of the Dodo (1996) investigated the rate of species extinction in island ecosystems and won the John Burroughs Medal for nature writing. Spillover (2012) was a finalist for seven awards and won two: the Science and Society Book Award, and the Society of Biology (UK) Book Award in General Biology. His most recent books, Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus (2014) and The Chimp and the River: How AIDS Emerged from an African Forest (2015), continue his work on diseases that have spread from non-human animals to humans.

Quammen has received honorary doctorates from Montana State University and Colorado College, a Rhodes scholarship, a Guggenheim fellowship, and a Lannan Literary Award for nonfiction. Other awards include the National Magazine Award and the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism. Visit his website, and browse the collection.

 Pattiann Rogers

Pattiann Rogers was born in Joplin, Missouri and graduated from the University of Missouri with a B.A. in Literature and a minor in Zoology in 1961. She received an M.A. in pattiann_rogersEnglish with an emphasis in Creative Writing from the University of Houston. She has taught at the University of Texas, the University of Montana, the University of Arkansas, Washington University of St. Louis, and Mercer University. She lives in Colorado.

Rogers’s work combines scientific language and concepts with questions of cultural and spiritual values. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry, Best Spiritual Writing, and in many anthologies and textbooks, including The Prentice Hall Anthology of Women’s Literature, Verse and Universe, Poets of the New Century, The Measured Word (On Poetry and Science), Stand-Up Poetry, The Made Thing, The Discovery of Poetry. Rogers’s latest collection Holy Heathen Rhapsody (2013) won the Helen C. Smith Award for Best Poetry Book of 2013 by the Texas Institute of Letters.

Rogers has received two NEA Grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award in Poetry, and a Lannan Poetry Fellowship. Her poems have been awarded the Tietjens Prize, the Hokin Prize, and the Bock prize from Poetry, the Roethke Prize from Poetry Northwest, the Strousse Award from Prairie Schooner, and five Pushcart Prizes. Visit her website, and explore the collection.

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