The Sowell Collection Conference – 2018


It’s April at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, and that means that the Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community, and the Natural World is about to host its annual conference! Created through the support of former TTU Regent James Sowell, the Collection provides to researchers the archival papers of some of the country’s most prominent writers on the natural world. Writing with a profound respect for the grandeur and fierceness of the land, these writers are deeply engaged with questions of land use and the nature of community, the conjunction of scientific and spiritual values, and the fragility of wilderness. From Thursday, April 19, through Saturday, April 21, scholars and authors whose works explore these themes will be presenting in the Southwest Collection/Special Collection Library’s Formby Room.

One presenter at the conference will be discussing the work of David Quammen, whose papers the Sowell Collection holds. Quammen is known for writing concise and highly accessible articles and monographs on scientific topics. In The Kiwi’s Egg, for example, he uses the personal letters and notebooks of Charles Darwin to explore the scientist’s biography with a focus on the history of the Darwin’s most famous theory. So it should come as no surprise that Quammen served as the general editor of an illustrated edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, the cover of which is above.

buffalo snow











Every year, it seems, a contributor to Orion Magazine speaks at this year’s Conference. That’s probably because the Sowell Collection preserves the records of the Orion Society, of which Orion Magazine is the official publication. 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.” Through a variety of methods, not the least of which is the magazine, they strive to find ways through which nature and communities might be healed.


While marine biologist, nature author, and passionate environmental advocate Rachel Carson’s papers aren’t in the Sowell Collection, it does own first-edition, signed copies of all her works such as the one seen here.. One presenter at the conference is slated to speak about Carson’s Silent Spring, a book foundational to the environmental movement (and one that you should go read right now!)

Many other presenters will be sharing their scholarship at this year’s event. But if you’d like to use one of the Sowell Collection’s many other archival collections, contact the SWC’s Reference Department and they can get those into your hands.

The Sowell Natural History Conference at the Southwest Collection

1a.B.Lopez-Arctic DreamsThis April 10th through 12th, the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library will host the Sowell Collection Conference. 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. In 2001, the work of Rick Bass, William Kittredge, Barry Lopez, Bill McKibben, Doug Peacock, David Quammen, Pattiann Rogers, and Annick Smith comprised the core of this collection. Writers recently added include Susan Brind Morrow, John Lane, and Sandra Scofield. In addition to published books, materials available for research purposes include correspondence; drafts of manuscripts; research notebooks; diaries and calendars; and photographs, computer files, and film.

Barry Lopez, for example, is an essayist, author, and short story writer. The relationship between physical landscape and human culture lies at the core of his nonfiction work, while his fiction frequently addresses issues of intimacy, ethics, and identity. His books include Arctic Dreams, the cover of which can be seen above. It received the National Book Award, and another of Lopez’ works, Of Wolves and Men, was a National Book Award finalist. Lopez has received fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the John Burroughs Society, the Orion Society, and other institutions. For All Seasons

Roland “Ro” Wauer is another prominent author well-documented in the Sowell Collection. An internationally acclaimed expert on the birds and butterflies of North America, Wauer is also a thirty-two year veteran of the National Park Service. As chief park naturalist for Big Bend National Park and chief of the Division of Natural Resources, National Park Service, he is the author of some two dozen books and two hundred articles. Ro writes on topics that reflect his distinguished career, with titles that include Birder’s Mexico, Butterflies of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and Naturalist’s Big Bend. For All Seasons, seen above, chronicles a year of his life in Big Bend in an effort to share both the beauty of and his passion for that park.QuammenBook Cover-Kiwi Egg
David Quammen is known for writing concise and highly accessible articles on scientific topics. His book, The Song of the Dodo, in which he investigates the rate of species extinction in island ecosystems, won the John Burroughs Medal for nature writing and several other awards. Quammen is a frequent contributor to Outside magazine and his work has also appeared in Harper’s, Esquire, and Rolling Stone. He has received a Lannan Foundation Fellowship as well as the National Magazine Award and the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism. The human drama and scientific basis of Darwin’s twenty-one-year delay constitute a fascinating, tangled tale that elucidates the character of a cautious naturalist who initiated an intellectual revolution. In The Kiwi’s Egg (above) Quammen uses the personal letters and notebooks of Charles Darwin to explore the biography of Darwin with a focus on the history of the scientist’s most famous theory.
Rick Bass Broadside
Rick Bass is a writer and environmental activist. He was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1958, but spent much of his youth in Houston. He graduated from Utah State with a degree in geology and then worked as a petroleum geologist in Mississippi. In 1987 Bass moved to Montana and began writing full-time. He is the author of numerous short stories, novels, memoirs and essays. Much of his work focuses on the reasoned benefits of preserving wilderness areas, such as the Roadless Yaak Valley of Montana. Our Rick Bass papers include almost all of his early work, as well as drafts of short stories and essays, correspondence and Yaak Valley Forest Council material, and over 100 letters from Rick Bass to James Linville, editor of the Paris Review.

As always, those interested in seeing these collections, or any of our other holdings, are always welcome to contact our Reference Staff, who would be happy to arrange a visit.

– Diane Warner and Robert Weaver