UCD offers great programs celebrating nature, culture

April 28, 1996
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us
UC Davis is acquiring a national reputation as a leader in literature, nature and wilderness studies that span the curriculum, embracing the sciences and the humanities.

One person who has been instrumental working behind the scenes to make sure these programs take root is Jack Hicks of the English department.

He recently returned from the "Watershed" conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Library of Congress, which was called to acknowledge the lead role poets, writers and readers are taking in celebrating the environment.

"This was a conference called by Poet Laureate Robert Hass (of UC Berkeley) -- he pulled together nearly every major writer in the field," said Hicks, who was a conference consultant and chair of a panel that consisted of Hass, poet Gary Snyder of UCD, naturalist Barry Lopez and writer Terry Tempest Williams.

Those same four Western writers appeared on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer on April 22 to talk about the relationship of culture to place.

"The American West," said Terry Tempest Williams, "used to be a landscape of the imagination. It's now filling up...and has created a literature of love and loss."

"It's been 500 years since Columbus discovered American," added Snyder. "America was rich, vital and new...and still today is wilder than Europe."

Hicks said the conference, the largest event of its type, attracted hundreds of people to each lecture and workshop. It was marked by an emphasis on Western writers.

"That's where the action is," Hicks said. "That's the last frontier."

Serious national movements usually take time to trickle down to the university level, but in this case UC Davis has been ahead of the curve. Hicks is of course pleased that poets and writers are focusing on the loss of wilderness but UCD wouldn't have the reputation it enjoys if the humanists hadn't joined forces with the scientists. The result has been a new cross-curriculum major in nature and culture, the Places on Earth lecture series and the Art of the Wild writing program that takes place in Squaw Valley every summer.

"I'm real pleased about Art of the Wild as it comes into its fifth year," Hicks said. "The university has agreed to co-sponsor the program to the year 2000, which is a very important commitment."

This year Art of the Wild will take place July 12-19. Tuition costs $565. About 96 writers from across the country - undergraduates, graduate students, teachers and those with a strong interest in nature writing - will take part. The application deadline is May 10, but Hicks is extending it to May 20 for local residents. For information, e-mail him at wjhicks@ucdavis.edu or phone him at (916) 752-1658. Although the tuition may be pricey for some, many conference participants in the past have saved money and had a good time camping at one of two campgrounds between Truckee and Squaw Valley along the Truckee River.

The 23-person staff at AoW this summer will include not only nationally known poets including - all from UCD -- Francisco Alarcon, Gary Snyder and Sandra McPherson, but geologist and river specialist Jeff Mount of UCD and butterfly specialist Roberty Pyle of Washington state, author of "Where Bigfoot Walks," plus many other fiction and non-fiction writers.

"Short story writer Pam Houston will be back with us," added Hicks. "Also Rick Bass, a dazzling writer of fiction and non-fiction, and poet Jane Hirshfield."

Those in the Davis area who would like to meet Bass and Hirshfield are lucky. They also have been invited to the Davis campus as part of the Places on Earth series and will be giving free, public readings here: Hirshfield ("The October Palace") will read at 8 p.m. on this Tuesday in 198 Young Hall and Bass ("The Lost Grizzlies") will read at 8 p.m. on May 14 in the same hall.

Hicks also is bringing California novelist James Houston and his wife, Jean Wakatsuki Houston, to campus on May 2 for a public reading at 4 p.m. in 251 Olson Hall.

And there are several other dates to keep in mind during this busy season. Playwright Edward Albee will speak in Freeborn Hall on May 13 at 8 p.m. (call 752-1915 for tickets) and former Davis resident Gus Lee will be signing copies of his latest book May 10, 7:30 p.m., at The Avid Reader bookstore in downtown Davis.

Come on out and support all of these great writers this spring.

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