Prentiss Ponders Abbey: A Craft Lecture on The Importance of Friendship With Our Planet

Marisa Cardin / Senior Staff Writer

At 7pm on September 14, hundreds of students, faculty members, and community members flocked to the South Ballroom in the University Center to see author Sean Prentiss. This event was hosted by The Contemporary Writer Series, headed by Dr. Elizabyth Hiscox, and the National Park Service Centennial Speaker Series, headed by park ranger, Bruce Nobel.   

Though there were some technical difficulties that occurred, even the shift in location to the Ruby Theatre didn’t upset the excitement in the room. Everyone, from the English department to the Environmental Sustainability department was eager to listen to Prentiss speak on his novel, Finding Abbey: A Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave.

Prentiss, an alumni from Western, opened the evening by explaining the novel’s muse, late author Edward Abbey. Prentiss spoke of the immediate inspiration he felt upon reading some of the author’s work, famous novels such as The Monkey Wrench Gang, and Desert Solitaire. Abbey, who was a park ranger in 1956 and 1957 for Arches National Park, was highly involved in restoring the environment, an opinion widely shared throughout his closest friends and family. Upon his death in 1989, he left specific instructions to his friends to bury him in an old sleeping bag, and to be buried in the desert.

Josiah Miranda-Troup, a junior at Western, enjoyed the event particularly because of its connection to both creative writing and environmental studies. “It was really cool to see the combination of ENVS and English students there. I think that totally lent to why it was so popular. I thought Sean had a great energy that he brought to the event, and he has a lot of personality in his writing.”

Marlida Mear, another junior at Western, agreed with Miranda-Troup. “A wide multidisciplinary audience was great,” she said. “Sean was fun to listen to and you could tell that, in coming to Gunnison, he was coming to a place he considered home.”

Prentiss, who was always interested in Abbey’s work, went looking for his burial site with a close friend. Finding Abbey is both a tribute to Prentiss’ experience in the search, as well as the magnificent lands in which they were searching in. Along his journey, Prentiss also interviewed many of Abbey’s closest friends, who were involved in his illegal burial, and also the basis for characters in Abbey’s novel The Monkey Wrench Gang.

During his reading, Prentiss urged listeners to pay attention to the state of the earth around them, which is something that Edward Abbey surely would have appreciated. Prentiss said that “overpopulation is what is killing the earth, and climate change is a side effect of that.”

As a tribute to his love of the planet, Edward Abbey once said, “It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space.”

Prentiss’ message was clear, so take his advice and go out into nature and play!