Words for the Earth

When considering the impact of John Calderazzo and SueEllen Campbell on Colorado State University over the course of three decades, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed. They’ve been such active and generous presences on campus.  Whether through their teaching, scholarship, creative writing, or outreach and activism, they have reached across boundaries of the arts and the sciences, environmental thinking and literature, to bring the world of the Department of English into greater contact with the natural world.

John Calderazzo and SueEllen Campbell
John Calderazzo and SueEllen Campbell

It is in honor of these passions and this legacy, on the eve of John and SueEllen’s CSU retirement, that the Words for the Earth Award is being created. When fully funded, this endowment will support efforts by faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and staff whose work addresses the pressing need to illuminate and protect the natural world and employs the skills and insights of literature and expression.

A shift in direction in their careers about nine years ago perhaps best illustrates the spirit of this award. Realizing they were both deeply concerned about global climate change, together they created Changing Climates@CSU, a multidisciplinary effort to make available to the public necessary information about the causes, effects, and possible solutions to global warming. Since 2007, they have organized more than 120 talks by more than 115 speakers drawn from across CSU, the region, the state, and the nation. They developed and maintain a website and began to offer communication training.  Atmospheric scientist Scott Denning describes their work this way: “Their leadership of the Changing Climates program has produced a web of connections among natural scientists, engineers, social scientists, humanists … [and is] arguably the best example in the USA of such integration.” In their continuing presences  at conferences and in organization such as the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, where these integral conversations take place, they have used their teaching and their writing, their voices and their vision, to help create a conversation of national reach.

John and SueEllen say of the effort, “We both thrive on this work, which we find to be challenging (it’s not what we were trained to do) and immensely rewarding. We love putting our reading, teaching, and writing skills and interests to work on a problem that matters to everyone on our planet.” In “Teaching aliens to talk: How global warming made me change my life,” an article published in High Country News, John Calderazzo explains the shift that’s taken place in his work and the beginnings of the Climate Change@CSU project. In the essay he muses, “We could drown in despair or become paralyzed. Or, we could try to do something.”

John Calderazzo
John Calderazzo

Separate from his collaborations with SueEllen on this issue, over the course of John’s 30 years teaching, he has not only consistently been considered one of the finest professors at the University, but his guidance has also influenced national consciousness on key issues – from our treatment  of the families who have lost loved ones in combat in Jim Sheeler’s Final Salute, to the history of cancer research and contemporary debates on medical ethics in Rebecca Skloot’s best-selling The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – by encouraging and helping to shape the voices telling us these necessary stories. He could do so because he is a brilliant writer himself, with over 150 publications – books, essays, and poems.  John’s curiosity and eloquence on a large range of topics have not only garnered awards, but inspired others to seek ways to communicate scientific discoveries to the people – all of us – affected most by them.

SueEllen Campbell
SueEllen Campbell

A renowned scholar, SueEllen is considered “absolutely foundational to ecocriticism,” one of the central concerns in contemporary literature, and a field Colorado State University and the Department of English have gained national repute in. That reputation is due largely to her brilliant work, described by Elizabeth Dodd as “a hugely ambitious, necessary, articulate, and generous undertaking, executed with scholarly exactitude and lyrical beauty.” The generous undertaking of such books as The Face of the Earth: Natural Landscapes, Science, and Culture extends to the students lucky enough to find themselves in her classroom. Her innovative pedagogy empowers students to think across large issues, to ask questions that are “nested, interwoven, fraught, and complex” in such a way that a primary ethic reveals itself: learning how to think about a book teaches you a lot about how to live in the world.

It is in honor of John and SueEllen’s individual and collaborative energies – and for the betterment of the planet – that the Words for the Earth Award has been created.

To support the Words from the Earth endowment in honor of John and SueEllen visit the English Department giving page and select the “Words for Earth Endowment” option.

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