Marriot Library Celebrates The Life Of Edward Abbey

By: Bradley Hunsaker

An audience of about 150 people packed the Gould Auditorium in the Marriot library Sunday to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Edward Abbey, author of “Desert Solitaire” and “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”

“I haven’t read many of Abbey’s works,” said Jordan Ripplenger, an environmental studies major at the University of Utah. “But he seemed like he lived an interesting life.  Almost like a modern day Thoreau.”

The event’s main purpose was to open up a new exhibit dedicated to Edward Abbey.  The exhibit will hold many of Abbey’s works including rare first-edition publications donated by Eric Hvolboll.  Hvolboll donated most of the collection to the library back in 2008.  Through a 30-year period he has looked for rare Abbey works wherever he could find them.  He told the audience he became addicted to Abbey’s work after reading a proof for “Desert Solitaire” and seeing how much was removed before the book was published.

Hvolboll told the audience he was happy to find a resting place for the collection.  He talked about how he looked into many Universities such as the University of Arizona and Stanford before deciding that the University of Utah was the place for this collection to be.  Hvolboll wasn’t the only person happy to see his collection put to good use.

“This is the best print collection in the whole area,” said Gregory Thompson, director of Special Collections here in Utah. “We now have the ability to study Ed’s writings including a lot of his non-published works.  It will also be important in bringing scholarship opportunities and the students getting educated in Abbey’s works.”

The opening of the exhibit was kicked off by a speech given by a long-time friend of Abbey’s, Ken Sanders.  Sanders is a rare book collector and has worked with Abbey on many different occasions.  Most of Sanders’ presentation came from Eric Temple’s documentary “Edward Abbey: A Voice in the Wilderness.”  The presentation included a lot of audio clips from Abbey himself explaining points of his life and his works.

“My point here today is to let us see Edward Abbey and hear Edward Abbey.  Ed didn’t need anyone to speak for him and 22 years after his death he still doesn’t,” said Sanders at the start of the presentation.

Sanders wanted to emphasize to the audience that Abbey’s works live on and should inspire people to act on a lot of the environmental issues today.  He gave the specific example of legislatures planning on taking back 30 million acres of federal lands within the state and using them for exploration, energy and greed.

Although Abbey never considered himself a naturalist, nor did he even know what a naturalist was, through his works he inspired environmental extremist groups such as Earth First.  He never really condoned the extreme ways of bringing environmental reform but he always emphasized people standing for the cause of the wild.

“The wilderness needs no defense!  Only defenders,” said Abbey in one of the audio clips during the presentation.

Albeit Sanders said he and Abbey did acknowledge the need for exploration, gas, oil and energy, he called it a trade-off for the precious land that is left.  He warned the audience to find the balance between consumption and the wilderness remaining before we consume too much.

“As Ed said, ‘Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell,’” said Sanders.

During his life Abbey wrote more than 23 books of both fiction and non-fiction.  His most famous is “Desert Solitaire” which documents his life as a park ranger in Moab’s Arches National Monument.  The book is about his experiences and thoughts during that time, mirroring Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.”

At the time Abbey’s works starting getting popular he said he only had one main goal when it came to his writing, “I want to write one good book if possible,” said Abbey. “I’m not trying to do anything more than that.”

The exhibit, “Brave Cowboy: An Edward Abbey Retrospective,” opened to the public Sunday and will remain open until April 27.  The exhibit can be found on the fourth floor of the Marriot Library.  Features include signed copies of Abbey’s works, his contracts and correspondence with his publishers and other documents about Abbey’s life.