Seminar brings Muncie author into spotlight

Ann Zwinger speaks tonight about travels to faraway places, studies conducted

For more than 30 years, Muncie native and author Ann Zwinger has been pursuing a career that has taken her far from the banks of the White River where she grew up.

Zwinger, a professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Col., is the author of more than a dozen books about natural history. She will be speaking at the Ball State University Alumni Center tonight in conjunction with a semester-long seminar on environmental literature at the Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry.

The class, taught by English assistant professor Barbara Stedman, will investigate Indiana's heritage of environmental literature and culminate with the unveiling of an electronic encyclopedia in December on the writings discussed.

"When I started planning this course, I began to think about authors who would be good speakers," Stedman said. "Ann immediately popped to mind. I was so impressed with her remaining connections to Muncie, even though she no longer lives here."

In addition to studying about Indiana environmentalist writers, the 15 students in Stedman's seminar will work on an environmental restoration project in the Limberlost wetlands located in Jay and Adams County. The hands-on project will provide students with experiences from which they can drawn upon when they write their own environmental literature for the encyclopedia.

Stedman said the seminar, assigned a budget of $25,000 from the Virginia Ball Center, will help the students to learn more about the role of environment in literature.

"I think 'place' shapes us not only as writers, but as who we become as human beings," Stedman said. "Doing research for this story, there were so many native authors I knew of or had read, but I had just never paid attention to the commentary they provided on natural history and the environment."

Zwinger said one of the questions that Stedman will have to struggle to answer in the seminar is how much environment truly influences an author's writing.

"Would Mark Twain have been the same author had he grown up on a river in Connecticut?," Zwinger asked. "And there's no question that William Faulkner's work would have been different had he not grown up in the South, because his environment dictated the subjects he wrote about."

As an author herself, Zwinger acknowledges the role environment has played in her own literature.

"When we first moved to Colorado, we bought 40 acres in the mountains and I didn't know anything about what was around me," Zwinger said. "When my children started asking me 'What's that mommy? What's that?,' I knew I had to keep ahead of them by learning all that I could."

Zwinger, who has a master's degree in art history from Indiana University and currently teaches English and Southwest Studies at Colorado College, said she never expected to turn her love of the land into a distinguished writing career.

"A friend of mine who was a writer had an agent visiting her. She got desperate having a house guest around and asked if I could take him up to the mountains," Zwinger said. "I was answering a lot of questions about what we saw, and from there came the idea to write a book about Colorado.

"That was the beginning and I just kept going from there."

Zwinger's first book, "Beyond the Aspen Grove," was published in 1970. Since then, she has written over a dozen more on natural history and related subjects.

In addition to her writings, Zwinger travels across the globe, speaking and conducting studies in what she calls "faraway places with strange-sounding names that you can't get to from here."

"My favorite part of my job is the challenge it provides me," she said. "I love the writing, I love the research and I love the learning - there is always something new to discover in this field."


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