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.
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.
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.
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.
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.