New Collections and Current Projects

What’s new at Sowell? Here’s a quick rundown of the latest acquisitions and the upcoming conference and essay contest.


In late 2013 we acquired the Doug and Andrea Peacock Papers. Doug Peacock, a Vietnam veteran and grizzly bear expert, is a self-described “renegade naturalist.” His wife Andrea is a Montana-based journalist, covering Western environmental news and politics. The materials, currently in the manuscript processing stage, concern Doug’s books, Walking It Off (2005) and In the Shadow of the Sabertooth (2013); Andrea’s book, Libby, Montana (2003); and their joint effort, The Essential Grizzly (2006). The Peacock papers should become available for research in 2016.

In 2014 we acquired the papers of environmental writer and advocate Marc Reisner. He is best known for Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (1986), a book describing the role of water rights and water use in the history and development of the Western United States. Modern Library selected Cadillac Desert as one of thCadillac Deserte top 100 best nonfiction English-language books of the 20th century. The book was a National Book Critic’s Circle Award finalist (1986), and PBS aired it as a four part documentary (1997). Now open for research, the Marc Reisner Papers include published and unpublished drafts, research material, correspondence, photographs, audio and video recordings.

In August 2015 we acquired the papers of Orion magazine, a publication known for its grounding in literature, the arts, and a philosophical exploration of how we live with the natural world. Orion materials, now in the very early processing stages, include correspondence; previous issue drafts and editorial comments; and written, taped and filmed records of the Forgotten Language Tours, Fire and Grit, and the John Hay Awards. The Orion collection should become available for research in 2016.Blessed Unrest

We acquired our first primarily digital collection in 2015, the Paul Hawken Papers. Environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author, Hawken is perhaps best known for his 2007 book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, in which he explores the diversity of the environmental movement from billion-dollar nonprofits to single-person dot.causes.

2016 Conference and Essay Contest

The 2016 Conference on the Sowell Collection will be held April 21-23, 2016. Featured writers and guests include John Lane, Barry Lopez, James Sowell, Toni Jensen, Kurt Caswell, and Lisa Couturier. We will post a CFP and conference schedule here and on our website. Stay tuned!

The Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library has announced the 2016 Sowell Collection Award open to all Texas Tech University students. Essays must be about a writer or writers in the Sowell Collection. Submissions for the 2016 award are due April 20, 2016. Prizes will be awarded for undergraduate and graduate students. First prize $250; second prize $150.

Send submissions as e-mail attachments to, using Sowell Essay Award as the subject line. Please indicate your student status (undergraduate/graduate). Do not include any identifying information (your name) in the essay.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sowell Collection: Then and Now

AJarticle2000 (2) The article that appeared in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal on Dec. 17, 2000 was not news to me.  I worked at TTU Libraries and I’d already heard of this fantastic new collection–and as a librarian, poet, literary scholar, I wanted to be a part of it.

AJarticle2000 (3)I knew the names and work of two of the writers in the this new collection, Barry Lopez and Pattiann Rogers.  I’d read River Notes, an early Lopez book, and I identified him with the Northwest, my home country.  Pattiann Rogers.  Well, even in 2000, 15 years ago, I considered Pattiann Rogers to be one of the greatest American poets.  I really wanted to work with this collection.  I considered myself fortunate when a professional position opened up in the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library.   I was the successful applicant, I came to the SWC/SCL in Feb. 2001, and I’ve been happily working with and in the Sowell Collection ever since.

My first office area was an eclectic congregation of cast-off furniture and dusty wall dividers.  Sort of like those “forts” of chairs and tables we constructed as children. The boxes and boxes involved in manuscript processing sorely strained the boundaries of my area.  I was a solitary worker, with one student assistant in for a few hours a week to pull staples and remove paper clips.  I did most of the processing myself, music in the background keeping me entertained; I’m not complaining, I actually enjoyed the zen of processing, the mindfulness required.  I liked immersing myself into each new collection, learning its treasures and quirks.  I prided myself, still do, on having a very quick turn-around time between the arrival of the collection and its availability to researchers.  Making the treasures available to researchers, that’s always the goal.  Still, working as a solitary processor and a battalion of student assistants, it took me three years to finish processing the Gretel Ehrlich papers.  Now, a collection that large can be completed in about 12 months.

McKibben_boxes (2)

The Bill McKibben collection, in my previous office.

The Sowell Collection has grown, from four writers to over twenty.  We are in contact with writers and agents with the aim of acquiring three new and extremely interesting collections.  Can’t wait to announce these!  We have new offices, with windows and plenty of room for boxes and boxes.  Especially important, several years ago, I was able to hire a full-time assistant.  Sara Roberts held the position until this past summer, when she moved to Lincoln, Nebraska.  Kristin Loyd joined the staff in August.  In their different ways, they have both been perfect for this work and this collection.  Right now, we have three student assistants.  A mighty workforce processing some additional papers from Doug and Andrea Peacock and a new collection from Orion.

The adventure of the day: a box of books arrived, donated by Barry Lopez.  Can’t wait to open it!

For another, more complete, telling of the history of the Sowell Collection, please see this essay by Kurt Caswell (TTU Honors College) that appeared in Isle, Spring 2015:



Posted in Barry Lopez, William Kittredge, Bill McKibben, Doug Peacock, David Quammen, Pattiann Rogers, Orion, Andrea Peacock | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Class Portrait – Current Readings in Natural History


For the past five years, I have worked with Prof. Kurt Caswell and the students in his Spring Semester class. I teach them how to conduct research in a special collections library, select boxes of manuscript material from the Sowell Collection that will show them the wide range of materials we have from each writer–from photographs to drafts of major books to correspondence–and present short biographical talks on the writers, I focus each semester primarily on writers who will be presenting at the Sowell Collection Conference held near the end of the semester. This year the writers were Susan Brind Morrow and Gary Paul Nabhan. The students also read the work of Barry Lopez, and when he is on campus, he visits their class.  This photo shows some of the students from the class, visitor Barry Lopez, and Prof. Kurt Caswell.  Usually Barry attends the Conference, he has always been a special guest and participant, but this year his schedule did not permit him to be with us.  Nevertheless, he visited with the students earlier in April, speaking to them about the joys, trials, and responsibilities of being a writer.

Pictured: Kathryn May, Barry Lopez, Kurt Caswell; Garrett Dewbre, Emma Foster, Hunter Bullock

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

To See the True Beauty in Nature is to be Thankful

The manner in which John Muir describes his surroundings made me realize how little I paid attention to mine. He saw wonder and life in the places I would have seen monotony. Muir saw an opportunity to be thankful for the wildlife surrounding him, where I sometimes saw a burden in it. The constant noting of the beauty of nature is the dominant trait in My First Summer in the Sierra, and the reason it has such a charm.

My First Summer in the Sierra is written in a style that gives a reader a sense of wanderlust for his or her own backyard. It is a book which made me realize I don’t need to go too far to find a reason to have my breath taken away by nature, because all I need is a change in perspective and an appreciation for every tree, leaf, flower and creature that I come across.

Liberty Cap, with Vernal and Nevada Falls MagnificentSilverFirs(Mr. Muir in foreground)  WhiteMariposaTulie(Calorchortus albus)

I also took a keen interest in Muir’s style of writing because it is unlike anyone else’s when it comes to describing nature. Muir does not care to describe his interaction with nature, nor does he take the time to explain what he learns from his surroundings. Instead Muir lets the environment speak for itself. The language Muir gives nature is the language of description. Muir gives the smallest of details–the pores of a plant, the shadow a rock creates, the sound of the stream rushing by, the height of the trees—to depict to the reader what it truly means to find beauty in everything. It is the manner of the description and his constant gratefulness that allows for a relationship to form between the reader and what Muir is describing.

Muir does not only have an avid passion and gratitude towards nature, but he is also a devoted scientist. The curiosity of a scientist parallels his harmony and unity with nature, evidently seen when he writes, “One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of nature, – inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last.” Muir molds science and nature so effortlessly it is difficult to note where one of his passions ends and the other begins. I found this to be incredibly interesting, since it is not common for many scientists to think of nature in that manner.


My First Summer in the Sierra impacted me in a way that made me take a step back and realize that I was not living with nature, but rather I was merely living in it.  I took for granted the sound of a bird’s song, never thinking about what it would be like if I woke up and day and didn’t hear nature outside. I took for granted the opened acorns, not realizing that it did not matter if I stand still or move, life still goes on around me. It was this realization that led me to see that I should slow down and take my surroundings in. I must sometimes stop and admire the creations around me. I must also stop and realize how small I am compared to a tree, and how much I take for granted. Muir also taught me that I cannot understand nature’s beauty until I can fully appreciate its splendor.

Ana Navarrete is a senior Environment and the Humanities student who plans to attend law school in the fall of 2015, with the aim of  pursuing a career in environmental law.  She is a member of Texas Tech’s Honors College from Houston, Texas.

Plates from My First Summer in the Sierra: Liberty Cap, with Vernal and Nevada Falls; Magnificent Silver Firs (Mr. Muir in foreground); White Mariposa Tulip (Calorchortus albus).

My First Summer in the Sierra, by John Muir.  Boston: Houghthon Mifflin, 1911.  This book can be read in the Holden Reading Room of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University.  A digital copy of this book, and others by John Muir, is available in the SWC/SCL’s digital collection ( in the Natural History and Science Collection.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Among Giants: Interning at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library

I am lucky enough to be one of the first Texas Tech University undergraduate students to present an essay at the Sowell Collection Conference.  Presenting at the conference entailed researching, editing multiple drafts, and practicing the essay over and over.  Our essays were about a writer whose manuscripts are housed in the James Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community and the Natural World.  It was such a nerve-racking experience, knowing that I would be giving an essay about a book whose author was sitting right in front of me.

Prof. Kurt Caswell and students researching in the Holden Reading Room

I prepared for the conference for an entire semester.  It was a class that turned into something so much bigger than in-class lessons.  It became an experience only I and 15 or so other students shared out of the 30,000 students at the university.  It started as an assignment in which we learned about some of the authors in the collection — Barry Lopez, Gretel Ehrlich, and David Quammen — looked through their boxes, which contained of drafts of their works, photographs, journals, and other personal items and picked something that interested us.

Some boxes from the Bill McKibben collection before they were processed and ready for researchers.

Some boxes from the Bill McKibben collection before they were processed and ready for researchers.

The next step was writing an essay, and we had complete writing freedom.  We could choose what to write, the only guideline was that the essay must adhere to something or someone in the collection.  It was a daunting task, looking through a plethora of boxes to find one thing that interested me.  I thought it would be impossible.

It turned out to be one of the most exciting and fulfilling things that I have done in all my classes.  I wrote my essay over Gretel Ehrlich’s book, This Cold Heaven.  In it she describes how the Inuit people of Greenland interact with others — family, friends, significant others — and how the cold is the driving force behind their way of interacting. I focused on the Inuit people’s relationships and how they differ from Western culture’s relationships. I read my essay in front of the authors Barry Lopez, John Lane, and David Quammen, whom I had come to admire and respect. They made up part of the audience and were listening to my words, not because they had to, but rather because they cared about what I had to say. It was really empowering, and a feeling that I have strived to get again since then.

Photograph from the Gretel Ehrlich Collection, at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library

Photograph from the Gretel Ehrlich Collection, at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library

This feeling was the reason I was so excited to work at the Sowell Collection again and why I wanted to put together some type of collection that would have all of the past conference papers from past undergraduate presenters. It was important to me that people who would visit the collection in the future would know about the conference and its presenters for years to come. The feeling presenting at the Sowell Conference gives a student matters, the conference matters and a record of it must be made.

Student panel at the Sowell Collection Conference 2013

Student panel at the Sowell Collection Conference 2013

I began to intern in the collection in the fall semester of 2014. I took a tour of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, which is bigger than I ever imagined, so I could get to know my learning space more intimately. I read books by different authors whose work resides there. I had conversations about the authors’ books as well as about how they affected me. I dove into the collection, but I didn’t expect for it to appeal so much to me.

I will be putting the papers from the former TTU student presenters in order, from the first year and the first presenter, to the present year and last presenter. It will reside in the Sowell Collection, accessible to anyone who wants to know about the conference and read the essays written by the students who were affected by the authors and their writing. The essays will all be in one place, permanently part of the collection, because when we presented the essays during the conferences, we also became writers in the collection.

Ana Navarrete is a senior Environment and the Humanities student who plans to attend law school in the fall of 2015, with the aim of  pursuing a career in environmental law.  She is a member of Texas Tech’s Honors College from Houston, Texas.

The Next Sowell Collection Conference will be held April 16-17-18, 2015, and will feature Susan Brind Morrow, Gary Paul Nabhan, John Lane, and Toni Jensen.


Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Know a Place I’ve Never Seen: Reading Susan Brind Morrow’s The Names of Things

I have an overwhelming sense of wanderlust that became a life companion after I traveled to Europe for the first time on my own. To see other places in the world became a necessity. I loved the cities, the good and the ugly all the same.

Names of Things

For this reason Susan Brind Morrow’s Names of Things really spoke to me. Her travels to Egypt were infectious, and her lust for the unknown was contagious. Egypt becomes one of her passions, and as she writes about her time there, she describes it with very realistic language, not once romanticizing the qualities Egypt has to offer. She describes the people, the places she visits, and her surroundings exactly as she sees them, leaving no ‘ugly’ part out. Morrow fell in love with the place and its people for what they had to offer her, not for what it was supposed to be like, and I fell in love with her vision of Egypt. It’s a harsh land to conquer, and my favorite part was that she didn’t try to conquer it. Instead, Morrow simply adjusted to it and found humor where other people normally wouldn’t, for example in the case of the Jeep. She drives a jeep while she is in Egypt, because it is reliable for the sand dunes, but unfortunately it frequently boils over. In a situation of stress and frustration, Morrow instead finds this time as useful and turns it into spare time to make herself a cup of tea with the heat of the radiator. It was a small necessary reminder that the situation remains the same, whether you stress or not.

The book deals with language, culture, and openness for change. Morrow welcomes change with open arms, and understands that staying still is impossible. Morrow writes, “All refuge I find is at best temporary…somewhere in the process of learning this, in the heat and exhaustion and the harsh openness of sand, rock and wind, my resistance gave way.” The truth of her words resonated with me, and applied in situations that had nothing to do with Egypt.


Expired passport with stamps for Egypt. In the Susan Brind Morrow Papers.


My favorite part of her writing was her unromanticized sentences. She leads the reader to intimately know and understand the place as she does, without altering Egypt’s scenery for a more romanticized idea, because she simply accepts things as they are. This is one of the book’s greatest strengths, because the reader can also fall in love with a place, rather than an idea.

This blog entry was written by guest contributor Ana Navarrete.

Ana Navarrete is a senior Environment and the Humanities student who plans to attend law school in the fall of 2015, with the aim of  pursuing a career in environmental law.  She is a member of Texas Tech’s Honors College from Houston, Texas.

Susan Brind Morrow Papers at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University:

Posted in Literature, Nature, Susan Brind Morrow | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Susan Brind Morrow’s Journals and Notebooks: Reading and Discovery

Susan Brind Morrow will visit Texas Tech University as a featured speaker for our fourth annual Sowell Collection Conference to be held April 16-18, 2015.  In preparation for her visit and for talking to undergraduate students about Morrow’s books, I recently re-read The Names of Things: A Passage in the Egyptian Desert, her first book about her travels and studies in Egypt.  Early in the book, Morrow describes an ostrich feather fan that she has saved:  “I spread the feather fan across my face and inhale it.  Its smell is vague and fading now, like the scent of my journals from that time…”

I had supervised the processing of Morrow’s manuscript collection, housed now in the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, and I remembered the students listing boxes and boxes of journals and notebooks.  With this passage as my inspiration, I requested those boxes and spent days with them, notebook by notebook, page by page.

Drawing of grass plant, from Box 7, folder 25.

Morrow’s handwriting flows, almost like water, with barely a ripple to distinguish consonant and vowel, but I came to be able to read many of the passages.  I came to see each page as a work of art, beautifully and carefully crafted, as well as a journalistic entry.

From box 8, folder 8.

In her journals, as shown in the section above, she reflects upon the difficult task she has set herself: “I guess I am just trying to understand that exotic adventures do not matter so much.  It is only how well you write–at this point for me it is only the writing– [?] go from writing snippets to writing a book” (box 8, folder 8).

I could never find a particular notebook or journal with the scent of old feathers, with the scent of Egypt–neither the Nile nor the desert–still clinging to the pages.  But it must be there somewhere.

Susan Brind Morrow Papers at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University:



Posted in Community, Environment, Literature, Susan Brind Morrow | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment