Scott Russell Sanders

Since I’ve been at Cornell, I’ve hosted quite a range of visiting writers. On the whole, these have proven to be wonderful events and I’ve managed through the program to meet some great writers. Last week’s visit by Scott Russell Sanders, though, really was one of the best events we’ve had.

In my introduction to Scott, I told the following story: about 10 years ago I was in a program at the Loft in Minneapolis called the Loft Mentor Series.  Each of us in the program had the opportunity to work with four nationally known writers over the course of the year. We also worked during the year with a local writer who offered continuity to the program.  That year, the local mentor was Barrie Jean Borich.  At the time, I was trying to figure out what it meant for me to be a writer, what it was I thought that writing should do.  In that context, Barrie said to me, “You really should read Scott Russell Sanders’ work.” She gave me a few essays and I was hooked.  The honesty, the generosity of spirit, and the clarity of vision in his work was incredibly important for me and has shaped what I think writing can do.

Hearing him read last week (and getting to talk with him when he visited an Environmental Studies course I am currently team-teaching) confirmed everything I already believed about him. His is an essential voice in contemporary America, and his voice and vision are as clear as they have ever been. Sanders’ nineteen books include novels (Bad Man Ballad, Terrarium) and collections of short stories (Wilderness Plots, Fetching the Dead), and most importantly, literary nonfiction (The Paradise of Bombs, Hunting for Hope, Staying Put, Writing from the Center). The most recent of his books, A Private History of Awe, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. I had not yet read Awe, but I have just started. He also read from his forthcoming book, A Conservationist’s Manifesto, and I’m really looking forward to spending some time with it. So, I guess I’ll just put in a plug here: if you don’t know Scott’s work, you should. Read it now. You can also learn more about him at his website here.

scottrussellsandersphoto by Robert Scheer

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