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Cornell American Literature Scholar kicks off Fall Lecture Series

26 weeks 2 days ago
by Degianni Fleming '20

Our annual Fall Lecture Series opens with renowned author George Hutchinson. Hutchinson, Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture in the College of Arts and Sciences, will deliver the 2018 William and Jane Torrence Harder Lecture. The Harder Lecture celebrates the connection between the literary and natural worlds, and is the first of the botanic gardens’ six-lecture series.  The lecture takes place Wednesday, August 29, at 5:30 p.m. in Call Auditorium, and will be followed by a garden party at Cornell Botanic Gardens. The lecture and garden party are free and open to the public.

Hutchinson’s insights dovetail with the purpose of the Harder Lecture and the mission of Cornell Botanic Gardens, said Christopher Dunn, the Elizabeth Newman Wild Director of Cornell Botanic Gardens.  “His work shows the depth of connection between people and nature,” Dunn said. “Through reevaluation of the past, he makes us see the future interrelationship of human culture and biodiversity.”

Hutchinson’s lecture, “Literary Ecology in the 1940’s,” will take a step to the mid-20th century and evaluate traditional perspectives in how “nature” and “literature” are categorized as non-human and human, respectively. The lecture will explore culture as something that happens inevitably, rather than as a conscious choice, focusing on humans and nature not as separate entities, but as one.

“Literature doesn’t simply represent ‘nature’ but is an agent of what we call nature; as Muriel Rukeyser put it, it is a “transfer of energy,” Hutchinson said. “The distinction between ‘Nature’ and ‘Culture’ was deconstructed—something Whitman had earlier intuited. This had important implications for literary form, as well as such movements as Abstract Expressionism in the visual arts.”

Hutchinson’s teaching and research focus on 19th and 20thcentury American literature. The subject of his lecture is also the topic of his forthcoming book on American literature and culture in the 1940s, for which he was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 2011.

“It’s amazing how many of the insights of recent theories of the “Anthropocene” actually emerged in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when people first came to the realization that they had the power to destroy the world on which we all depend—and that we were likely to do so,” Hutchinson said. “These insights had a profound impact on American literature and other arts. 

Hutchinson is the author of several books including “In Search of Nella Larsen: A Biography of the Color Line,” which has won the Christian Gauss Award of Phi Beta Kappa; and “The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White,” a finalist for the Rea Non-Fiction Prize.

“George is a sparkling writer who draws on an incredibly rich store of knowledge about twentieth-century US culture—not only literature but music, visual art, racial and sexual politics, and philosophy,” said Caroline Levine, the David and Kathleen Ryan Professor of Humanities and chair of the Department of English.

“His research is always innovative and surprising, and his new book on the 1940s is going to reshape the ways we’ve thought about American literature in the past century.”

View the full lecture series lineup.

-Degianni Fleming ‘20 is marketing and communications intern for Cornell Botanic Gardens