Senior Austin Schilling has been working with English professor Dave Sumner on an anthology of fire lookout stories since last summer.
Schilling might co-author the introduction to the anthology, but Sumner is the primary author.
“It’s been going great,” Sumner said. “Austin, he’s a bright kid, and he’s excited about this project.”
Sumner chose Schilling as his research assistant and possible co-author.
“I chose him because I’d had him in a class, and he’s president of the English honor society of the college,” Sumner said. “He’d also been helping with other stuff before he got the grant.”
Schilling is very interested in the type of nature literature he and Sumner have been reading and bringing together.
“It’s a relatively unexamined area that has influenced a lot of nature writing in the Northwest,” Schilling said. “We discovered there’s a big niche for this.”
Sumner and Schilling call the area of writing “fire lookout literature.”
Fire lookout is a term for a job that was once fairly prevalent in the Northwest in many logging areas.
“Fire lookouts were jobs that were usually open because not a lot of people would do them because it’s isolation for months upon end.
“You seldom have visitors, but when these writers took these jobs what they found was they were on top of these mountains, alone, and all they had to do was look at the landscape and think about their relationship with the world around them and what that meant to them as writers and as people.
“They were able to turn out these very powerful works of literature. What that did was push the way we think about nature and literature forward,” Schilling said.
Nature literature has interested Schilling before, but he will be focusing on fire lookout literature for his honors thesis.
“I’m basically the primary researcher. I have a big role in putting the anthology together and possibly co-writing,” Schilling said.
Male writers dominate the field of nature writing, but one of Schilling’s discoveries shows that women have also been writing in the genre.
“The most interesting thing that I just stumbled on was the discovery of Martha Hardy. She was essentially the first published fire lookout author. She’s relatively overlooked in the literature,” Schilling said.
Schilling hopes his discover of Hardy will loosen the male-centered hold on nature writing in the literary world.
At the moment, the anthology’s process has slowed down.
Sumner and Schilling still need to find a publisher, and Schilling isn’t sure whether he will be co-writing the introduction yet.
Schilling is enjoying his time working with Sumner and is glad that Sumner chose him as a research assistant.
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Senior Austin Schilling sits inside of T.J. Day Hall. He and Englsih Professor Dave Sumner have been working on an anthology of fire lookout literature since last summer. Their work will bring a new understanding to this obscure field in nature writing.
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