American literature scholar kicks off Botanic Gardens’ lecture series Aug. 29

George Hutchinson

Cornell Botanic Gardens opens its annual Fall Lecture Series with author George Hutchinson, the Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture in the College of Arts and Sciences, delivering the 2018 William and Jane Torrence Harder Lecture Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 5:30 p.m. in Call Auditorium. The lecture will be followed at 7 p.m. with a garden party at Cornell Botanic Gardens. Both are free and open to the public. The Harder Lecture celebrates the connection between the literary and natural worlds.

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 re-evaluation of the past, he makes us fully aware of the essential interdependence of human culture and biodiversity.”

Hutchinson’s lecture, “Literary Ecology in the 1940s,” will evaluate traditional perspectives on how “nature” and “literature” are categorized as nonhuman 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,’” said Hutchinson, author of “Facing the Abyss: American Literature and Culture in the 1940s.”“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 20th-century American literature.

“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 “In Search of Nella Larsen: A Biography of the Color Line,” which received 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 20th-century U.S. 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 book on the 1940s is going to reshape the ways we’ve thought about American literature in the past century.”

Degianni Fleming ’20 is marketing and communications intern for Cornell Botanic Gardens.


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Lindsey Knewstub