Scott Russell Sanders Essay My Father

Brief bio for introductions: Scott Russell Sanders is the author of more than twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, including Hunting for Hope and A Conservationist Manifesto. His most recent books are Earth Works: Selected Essays (2012); Divine Animal: A Novel (2014); and a collection of his eco-science fiction stories entitled Dancing in Dreamtime (2016). A new edition of his documentary narrative, Stone Country, co-authored with photographer Jeffrey Wolin, was published in 2017. Among his honors are the Lannan Literary Award, the John Burroughs Essay Award, the Mark Twain Award, the Cecil Woods Award for Nonfiction, the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2012 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Indiana University. He and his wife, Ruth, a biochemist, have reared two children in their hometown of Bloomington, in the hardwood hill country of Indiana’s White River Valley.

Longer bio for reference: Sanders was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1945. His father came from a family of cotton farmers in Mississippi, his mother from an immigrant doctor’s family in Chicago. He spent his early childhood in Tennessee and his school years in Ohio. He studied physics and English at Brown University, graduating in 1967. With the aid of a Marshall Scholarship, he pursued graduate work at Cambridge University, where he completed his Ph.D. in English in 1971. From 1971 until his retirement in 2009, he taught at Indiana University, from 1995 onward as Distinguished Professor of English.

Among his more than twenty books are novels, collections of stories, and works of personal nonfiction, including Staying Put, Writing from the Center, Hunting for Hope, and A Private History of Awe. In the past decade he has published A Conservationist Manifesto, his vision of a shift from a culture of consumption to a culture of caretaking; Earth Works, a selection of his best essays from the past thirty years; the novel Divine Animal; Dancing in Dreamtime, a collection of eco-science fiction stories; and Stone Country: Then & Now, a new and enlarged edition of his documentary narrative co-authored with photographer Jeffrey Wolin.

Sanders has received the Lannan Literary Award, the Associated Writing Programs Award in Creative Nonfiction, the Great Lakes Book Award, the Kenyon Review Literary Award, the John Burroughs Essay Award, and the Indiana Humanities Award, among other honors, and has received support for his writing from the Lilly Endowment, the Indiana Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. The Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature named him the 2009 winner of the Mark Twain Award; in 2010 he was named the National Winner of the Glick Indiana Authors Award; in 2011 the Fellowship of Southern Writers presented him with the Cecil Woods, Jr. Award in Nonfiction; and in 2012 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

He is currently at work on a collection of short stories, a book about the meaning of wealth, and a collection of essays about the role of writing in an age of climate disruption. His writing examines the human place in nature, the pursuit of social justice, the relation between culture and geography, and the search for a spiritual path. He and his wife, Ruth, a biochemist, have reared two children in their hometown of Bloomington, in the hardwood hill country of Indiana’s White River Valley.

Additional material about SRS has been posted on Wikipedia here. (He has not contributed to or edited this entry.)

Hunting for Hope: A Father's Journeys, By Scott Russell Sanders. Boston: Beacon P, 1999. 200 pp. Cloth $23.00. Paper $14.00.

Scott Russell Sanders is more than a "nature writer"; he is a storyteller who tells finely crafted and mindful essays which engage questions of social values. The narrative he tells is of personal relationships as he struggles to win for his grown children a reason for hope and a faith in the future. Hunting for Hope begins with a hiking and rafting trip to Colorado with his teenage son, Jesse, when the son turns on the father and attacks him for his lack of faith: "You make me feel the planet's dying and people are to blame and nothing can be done about it," Jesse tells his dad. "I have to believe there's a way we can get out of this mess. Otherwise what's the point? Why study, why work--why do anything if it's all going to hell?" (9).

The rest of the book is a progression of essays written to calm this cry from his son, and for his older daughter Eva, who is embracing marriage. To help him explore this struggle of values, he interweaves a series of chapters on "Mountain Music" which continue the opening story of the father and son's trip into the wild. Meditating on "sources of hope" in his journal, Sanders lists not only "Wildness," as we would expect from the "nature writer," but also body bright (a call for cleansing the doors of perception), family, fidelity, skill, simplicity, beauty, and the way of things (God). These become the chapters of this finely structured book, and the tokens for his "medicine bundle." Sanders packs these essays with details of the earth, community, and place, and of epiphanies drawn from the muddle of ordinary life.

Some readers may find the essays lacking in humor. After all, what better antidote to despair than laughter? But Sanders has his own brand of humor--and humility--but not the absurdity or smug irony that is often so close to hopelessness. There is a moral earnestness here reminiscent of Wendell Berry, but there is also Sanders’s own distinct voice, concerned and loving, almost like what that "nature writer" Henry David Thoreau would be if he had kids. Carry this book in your own medicine pouch for healing.



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