Legacy of radical environmental activist and author is showcased in exhibit

by Ryly Larrinaga

SALT LAKE CITY –  “He didn’t need anyone to talk for him alive and he still doesn’t being 22 years dead,” said local rare book dealer Ken Sanders.

Nearly two decades after author and radical environmentalist Edward Abbey’s death in 1989 at the age of 62, Sanders is finally able to speak of the man he knew and his work that has spurred such a drastic movement in environmental crusades.

Before the opening exhibit containing Abbey memorabilia at the J. Willard Marriot Library on Sunday, about 150 attendees listened as Sanders gave his lecture, “R. Crumb meets the Monkey Wrench Gang: Edward Abbey and the Modern Environmental Movement, from EarthFirst! to Tim DeChristpoher.”

“I hope to bring a taste and flavor for what Abbey was all about,” said Sanders of his lecture that showcased footage of Abbey during his life.

Abbey, whose writing became a crusade surrounding the destruction of the environment, considered himself an entertainer and expressed that his main goal was to just write good books, according to Sanders.

Abbey’s writings are filled with themes of anarchy and rebellion, much like in his prominent novel, “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” that centers on activists who plan to sabotage the destruction of the Glen Canyon Dam. “The Monkey Wrench Gang” is cited as being a major inspiration to several radical environmental groups such as the creation of EarthFirst!.

“People need to do more. We need more people standing up and saying the emperor has no clothes,” said Sanders.

Sanders, said that Abbey’s view on environmentalism will just not cut it these days, emphasized that issues have become more frightening, which require a modern, stronger approach in order to create change.

“The new generation of people coming of age now, they’ve inherited the planet that we’ve messed up. It’s up to them to do something about it,” Sanders said in relevance to Tim DeChristopher.

DeChristopher, who falsely bid on oil and gas leases at a 2008 Bureau of Land Management auction, was convicted last July to two years in prison.

However, Abbey’s work was just not an attempt to stop the destruction of the environment through crusades of chaotic events like in “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” Several of Abbey’s writings were themed around the relationship between man and nature.

In his 1968 novel, “Desert Solitaire,” Abbey uses sharp and poetic descriptions to bring the reader close to the natural beauty of the desert without actually being there.

‘Desert Solitaire,” has since gone on to become one of Abbey’s most noted publications. However, as Sanders described, Abbey was not fond of how popular the novel became. Abbey refusing to allow excerpts to be reprinted from the novel for over three years, Sanders said that Abbey became upset when requests for “Desert Solitaire” became overwhelming.

Abbey successfully attempted to intensify the anger of moral people who share similar beliefs on the importance of preserving the environment. Saying that Abbey had a unique way of incorporating the reader with his writing, whether that is through mesmerizing or infuriating the reader, Sanders believes that the legacy of Abbey will continue to be carried on through those who become involved with reading Abbey’s writings.

Having known Abbey, this lecture and exhibit was monumental for Edward Leuders, who hired Abbey to be the first writer for the creative writing department at the University of Mexico.

“This collection of Abbey material is a blessing. Abbey’s work was so influential that this collection of material the university has accumulated is unparallel,” Leuders said of the collection.

The exhibit showcases 174 items including Abbey’s handwritten notes, manuscripts, signed publications of Abbey’s books and various articles written by and about Abbey.

Eric Hvolboll, a recently retired attorney from Santa Barbara, Calif., donated the large collection to the Marriot Library in 2008. Included in the collection are first-edition signed publications and several original Abbey proofs that Hvolboll has gathered over a period of 30 years.

The exhibit, “Brave Cowboy: An Edward Abbey Retrospective,” is free and open to the public until April 27 on the fourth floor of the J. Willard Marriot Library.