May 31, 2016
Meet Your Guides: Part 3

Learn more about the creative, intelligent and environmentally savvy scholars leading us on our adventures! Meet Shari Wagner, Indiana Poet Laureate.

We’re introducing you to the creative, intelligent and environmentally savvy scholars leading us on our adventures (register for one here). Our scholars will help infuse the humanities into each excursion by facilitating interesting conversations that connect environmental literature, nature and the past, present and future of Hoosier stewardship. Be sure to check the blog throughout the summer to “meet the minds!”


Shari Wagner, Indiana Poet Laureate and Instructor for the Indiana Writers Center

What excursions will you lead?

You can join me on an adventure through McVey Memorial Forest on June 7 and along the Syracuse-Wawasee Trails on June 9.

What drew you to Next Indiana Campfires? How does it connect to your professional or personal interests?

During my two-year term as Poet Laureate, one of my goals is to celebrate poetry’s connection to nature. Next Indiana Campfires offers a wonderful opportunity to do just that!

What author, book, essay or poem first awakened an interest in environmental writing? Tell us a little about when you read it and how it impacted you.

The first book I read by Gene Stratton Porter was the novel, Freckles, and it had a tremendous impact on me. I must have been about eleven years old at the time. Just like the protagonist in the novel, I chose my own sacred place in the woods—my “cathedral”—where I went by myself to feel a sense of awe and oneness with nature. Porter’s home on Sylvan Lake in Rome City soon became a place of pilgrimage for me. I’m still inspired by Porter’s words, though now I’m much more drawn to her nonfiction than to her novels.

Where’s your favorite place to spend time outdoors in Indiana? Have you discovered a hidden gem that more Hoosiers should know about?

I feel particularly close to Pine Hills Nature Preserve, adjacent to Shades State Park in Montgomery County. If you go to my laureate website at www.throughthesycamores and click on the “Your Poems” page, you’ll get an idea of why I’m so enthralled with this preserve. You’ll find photographs of Honeycomb Rock, Clifty Creek, and Devil’s Backbone.

What’s the focus of your scholarly research / creative practice? How does it relate to nature and the environment?

I’ve written poems inspired by visits to places of natural beauty throughout Indiana, from Clifty Falls to the Indiana Dunes. I’ve also written poems about people who felt especially close to many of these places—people like Gene Stratton Porter, Simon Pokagon, Alice Gray (Diana of the Dunes), and Chief Shipshewana. My most recent poetry book, The Harmonist at Nightfall: Poems of Indiana, contains many of these poems.

Is there an environmental humanities topic or text that you love teaching? What is it, and why do you love using it in the classroom?

I love teaching Mary Oliver’s poem, “Mussels.” Form, sound, rhythm, and imagery all reach out to try to apprehend a consciousness that isn’t human. The poem inspires lively conversation on the tension between humans and the natural world and speculation on the consciousness of plants and animals.

Okay, just for fun! What’s on your 2016 Indiana Bucket List?

  • Visit the reclaimed wetlands of Limberlost near Geneva
  • Revisit the Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area in November
  • Stay overnight at West Baden Springs Hotel
  • Attend my 40th Year High School Reunion on Lake Wawasee
  • Canoe down Sugar Creek


Next Indiana Campfires is a unique way to connect nature, literature and Indiana’s Bicentennial. The program is supported by the Efroymson Family Fund, the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfires. Indiana Humanities is supported in part by Lilly Endowment Inc. and the National Endowment of the Humanities. 

This post is part of the weekly blog series devoted to the initiative. Check back every Tuesday to learn more about Indiana’s great environmental literature, find out interesting facts about Hoosier stewardship, get all the latest program details and more.


Posted In: Next Indiana Campfires, Spotlight

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