As we do every year around this time, the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library will host the Sowell Collection Conference, which will take place this year from Thursday, April 21st to Saturday the 23rd. Created through the generous support of James Sowell, the Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community, and the Natural World contains the personal papers of some of the country’s most prominent writers who are dedicated to documenting the ways in which we interact with our world, and creating new ways of examining our world and our place within it. The list of authors whose papers we preserve is far too long to list here in its entirety, but some of the most prominent include Rick Bass, William Kittredge, Barry Lopez, Doug Peacock, Pattiann Rogers, and Annick Smith. These authors have provided published books, correspondence, research notebooks, diaries, calendars, photographs, computer files, film, and a host of other materials for our researchers to use. This year, the Collection was also fortunate to receive the records of the Orion Society!
A group of writers, environmentalists, and activists, the Orion Society believes that “humans are morally responsible for the world in which we live, and that the individual comes to sense this responsibility as he or she develops a personal bond with nature.” The Orion Society focuses on teaching how nature and communities might be healed. Their publication, Orion, is a respected journal which highlights global efforts to achieve sustainable communities. And it has incredible cover photos, as you can see throughout this blog.
The Myrin Institute began publishing Orion Nature Quarterly (now simply Orion) in 1982. Ten years later, Myrin established the Orion Society to conduct writing workshops, secondary education initiatives, and grassroots networking. But at its core, the Society focuses on teaching how nature and communities might be healed. Many writers whose papers are housed in the Sowell Collection have been regular contributors to the journal–including Barry Lopez, Priscilla Ybarra, Lisa Couturier, and Robert Michael Pyle who will be hosting an Orion panel at this year’s Sowell Conference.
An important event in the Society’s history, which our Orion Society Collection thoroughly documents, is the Forgotten Language Tours. Held from 1992-2003, they facilitated events in communities across the U.S. in which writers and poets offered readings, workshops, and discussions that attempted to strengthen the local community’s understanding of the natural world and human community as well as to promote nature literacy.
The Fire & Grit and Watershed conferences were similarly prominent events. The former was held in 1999 at the National Conservation Training Center, the largest gathering ever to take place there. The Watershed: Writers, Nature and Community conference, cosponsored by the Library of Congress, took place in Washington, D.C., April 15-20, 1996, with over three thousand people in attendance.
Finally, the society presents The John Hay Award for Nature Writing annually to writers whose work is vital in reconnecting people to the natural world. Award winners include John Hay, Ann Zwinger, Wendell Berry, Homero Aridjis, Peter Matthiessen and Jane Goodall. In 2004 and 2010 Orion won the Utne Independent Press Award for General Excellence. The magazine was a finalist for a National Magazine Award in the Essay category.
The Orion Society published two anthologies of writing from Orion: Finding Home (1992) and The Future of Nature (2007); and two educational series: The Nature Literacy Series and the New Patriotism Series. But the collection holds more than just issues of Orion and these other publications. Correspondence and manuscripts are present, as are audio/visual materials and photographs. The Orion Society Notebook published from 1995 through 1997 (sometimes under other titles) is also available for your reading pleasure.
So make plans to attend 2016’s Sowell Conference if you can. But if you can’t, don’t hesitate to view the Orion Society’s records in our Holden Reading Room, where our ever-attentive Reference staff would be happy to get them into your hands.