John Burroughs and his Legacy; Essays from the John Burroughs Nature Writing Conference
Author: Daniel G. Payne
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Category: Literary Criticism
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At the time of his death in 1921, John Burroughs (1837-1921) was America’s most beloved nature writer, a best-selling author whose friends and admirers included Walt Whitman, Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison. Burroughs was second only to Emerson in fostering the nature study movement of the nineteenth- century, and the popularity of his work inspired Houghton Mifflin to publish or reissue the work of numerous other nature writers, including that of Thoreau and Muir. His first collection of essays, Wake-Robin, was published in 1871, and over the next fifty years Burroughs wrote almost two dozen books, and hundreds of essays—not only on nature, but on literature, travel, philosophy, religion, and science. By the turn of the century, Burroughs was America’s most beloved nature writer, whose friends and admirers included Walt Whitman, Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison. Burroughs died in 1921 while on a train ride back to his New York from California. His final words—"Are we home yet?"—were a remarkably fitting coda to the career of a writer so closely identified with his native Catskill region of New York State. In many of his essays, Burroughs explores the woods and fields of home, and in doing so, like Henry Thoreau and his explorations of Concord, Massachusetts, he transcends the local and examines the universal theme of our relation with nature and our native landscape. Burroughs’s emphasis on "place" and the local now seems modern once again; as the current interest in bioregionalism and climate change demonstrates, it has become increasingly evident that "thinking locally" is "thinking globally." Since 1992, the SUNY College at Oneonta has hosted the biannual John Burroughs Nature Conference and Seminar ('Sharp Eyes'), which honors the influence of Burroughs on American nature writing. Distinguished keynote speakers who have addressed the conference include John Elder, John Tallmadge, Joy Harjo, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Edward Kanze, James Perrin Warren, and Edward J. Renehan, Jr. The scope of the conference is not limited solely to Burroughs, however, as each year the writers and scholars in attendance direct their attention toward a particular issue of significance to contemporary nature writers and scholars of environmental literature. The theme of this collection, "Writing the Land: John Burroughs and his Legacy" was featured in the 2006 conference, and includes essays on John Burroughs as well as essays on the work of other writers who, like Burroughs, are linked closely through their work to a particular landscape or region. The third and final section of this book features invited essays by three distinguished scholars, John Tallmadge, Robert Beuka, and Charlotte Zoë Walker, who consider the topic of what writing about the land and nature means from three different perspectives—urban, suburban, and rural.