Ken Sanders Remembers The Original Monkey Wrencher

by Aodhan Hayter

SALT LAKE CITY – “A lot of people don’t take his writing seriously,” said Ken Sanders as he addressed the audience in the Gould Auditorium at University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriot Library Sunday.

The writing Sanders is referring to is that of Edward Abbey. Considered by many to be the “Thoreau of the American Wes,” Abbey is author of works such as “desert Solitaire” and “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” Much of the content of these two works were inspired by the time he spent living in Utah as a seasonal park ranger at what was, at the time, Arches National Monument and is now Arches National Park

This special connection to Utah and a few fortunate turns of fate, like a generous donation of Abbey first edition books from an Abbey collector, Eric Hvolboll, have brought Abbey’s works back to Utah in the form of a rare book exhibit titled: “Brave Cowboy”: An Edward Abbey Retrospective,” displayed at the University of Utah’s, J. Willard Marriot Library.

But abbey’s significance encompasses more than just his literary works, according to Sanders. His writings are said to have inspired the birth of the radical environmental movement that sprang up during the 1980s and continues on today. Abbey’s disdain for what he would call “the totalitarian techno-industrial state” is the central theme of what is considered his most popular fictional work, “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”

“He just wrote what he thought,” said Caleb White, an attendee of the event who has read some of Abbey’s works..

From the packed auditorium to the busy exhibit, attendees of the event seemed to take Abbey’s writing very seriously, With the global warming debate and environmental issues becoming more mainstream, Abbey enthusiasts tend to think his works may be more relevant than ever

I haven’t read a lot of his books, but I think he has some good points,” said Sarah Jackson, a student, when asked if she agreed with Abbey’s views on environmental activism.

In fact, it seemed as though most attendees of the event were drawn to Abbey’s writings by his views on environmental activism.

“It’s up to us, the citizens of  this state to do something,” said Sanders while talking about local environmental issues.

Sanders then went onto explain that while Abbey’s idea of environmental activism is still relevant, the course of action has to be changed somewhat. Sanders points out that Abbey’s vision of blowing up dams and sabotaging Industrial equipment is more likely to land you in federal prison than actually have a lasting positive effect on the environment. Therefore activism has to take on public policy and opinion, not just vigilante environmental justice.

While the correct form of environmental activism may be up for debate, Sanders casts little doubt about the effect Abbey’s writings on the subject have had. From spawning what would become the radical environmentalist movement, to his ability to capture the essence of the West in his writing, Abbey has had a lasting effect on both the literary and environmental disciplines.

Abbey died in 1989 at the age of 62. The “Brave Cowboy”: An Edward Abbey Retrospective is free and open to the public. The exhibit is located at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library, free and open to the public. The exhibit is located at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library, Special Collections Gallery, Level 4. It’s available for viewing during regular library hours.