Grant to fund study of writer's novel use of landscapes

imageA SUNY Oswego student and faculty member will team up to study an influential writer’s use of landscape as character under a campus Student/Faculty Collaborative Challenge Grant.

English faculty member Chris LaLonde and senior Roger Gordon will travel to New Mexico this summer to explore the role of the landscape in the work of 20th century Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko.

LaLonde suggested that Silko has asserted that “place is more than simply the setting in which a story unfolds; rather, place is a character in its own right, one which is of paramount importance to a particular piece of fiction as a whole,” Gordon said. “I thought this was quite an extraordinary and interesting claim, so I decided to work with Chris to examine this idea.”

Silko, a mixed-blood Laguna Pueblo, has been a pivotal part of the developing canon of modern Native American literature, LaLonde said. “Indeed, one can justifiably claim that her work . . . helped establish the field of 20th century Native American literature and pave the way for the generation of Native writers that have followed,” the pair wrote in applying for the grant. “Silko’s texts have consistently brought to light questions of and concerns over Native identity, both mixed blood and full, and the possibility of community in post-WWII America.”

Silko earned a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation, and her work is widely taught in colleges and universities in the United States and abroad, said LaLonde, who specializes in Native American literature.

Because of the role regional landscapes play in Silko’s texts, LaLonde and Gordon decided the best way to determine the impact of place was to explore the environment that influenced her writings.

“This grant will allow us to travel to the American Southwest and to position ourselves in place, in order to grasp as fully as possible the places that Silko fictionalizes,” Gordon said. “By completing this project I hope to learn about and better understand both the cultural and natural landscape of the Pueblo.”

LaLonde said the opportunity to help students learn in this manner is one of the things he most values about teaching. “I especially enjoy helping students find their voice, sharpen their perspective, and hone their arguments,” he said. “Moreover, I also very much enjoy working with students in place as well as on place, having taught undergraduates at a wilderness field station, in no small measure because such labor is especially conducive to both the growth of the project and the growth of the student.”

The project will position Gordon to pursue graduate studies in English, with a particular focus on Native American literatures and ethnic American literatures. Another goal is for Gordon to present his findings at a national conference.

A total of $10,000 of grant funding was available through the Oswego College Foundation and the SUNY Oswego Provost’s Office for faculty-student projects this year. The college’s Scholarly and Creative Activities Committee judged proposals and recommended awards for three projects.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Go west—SUNY Oswego senior Robert Gordon (seated) and Dr. Chris LaLonde, associate professor of English, prepare to travel to New Mexico this summer to tour settings used in Leslie Marmon Silko’s writings and gain a better understanding of the importance of place in literature. A SUNY Oswego Student/Faculty Collaborative Challenge Grant will enable them to explore the influential Native American writer’s use of landscape as a character.

(Posted: May 02, 2005)