Professors return from White House

Rebecca Schultze

Rebecca Schultze

Three SDSU professors discovered that their work at SDSU can take them anywhere.

Mary Ryder, distinguished professor of English, Kathleen Danker, professor of English, and John Miller, professor of history, held a press conference on Thursday afternoon to discuss their trip to the White House Symposium of Women of the West.

The symposium celebrated the writings of Willa Cather, Edna Ferber and Laura Ingalls Wilder, the legacy of their work and their impact on the American myth and popular culture.”

“At a time when books and book reading seem to be on the decline, I can applaud anything and everything that celebrates a sense of literature,” Miller said.

Ryder, Danker and Miller have published work on one or more of these authors.

Among the 150 people present at the buffet breakfast in the White House and the two-hour symposium in the East Room, were a class of high-school students, desendants of Wilder and actress Melissa Gilbert who played Wilder in the “Little House on the Prairie” television series.

“It was a varied group,” Danker said. “It wasn’t just scholarly.”

“If it was purely scholarly, involving just critics on these three authors, it would’ve done little more than tell us what we already know,” Ryder said. “By bringing in the diversity of people, I think that was one of the strengths.”

The professors enjoyed their by-invitation-only status. They wandered around the Red, Blue, Green, State and East rooms of the White House with few limitations.

“Security was good, about what I expected,” Ryder said.

Danker said that the security people were almost like greeters. “They were very courteous.”

Miller and Ryder got their photo taken with First Lady Laura Bush during the symposium intermission. While Danker missed out on the photo opportunity, she did get to see the president’s dogs.

The three professors said they did not feel there were any political undertones to the event.

“There was nothing at all to suggest that there was a conservative bent to this,” Miller said. “Everything is not politics. There are various aspects of life. Life will go on after these [political] decisions are made.”

“The emphasis on literacy was very genuine,” Ryder said.

First Lady Laura Bush, a librarian and former school teacher, is using the series to highlight some of America’s significant literary figures.

The September symposium is the third event in the White House Salute to America’s Authors series.

Previously honored authors inlcude the writers of the Harlem Renaissance and Mark Twain.