Professors invited to White House symposium

Todd Vanderwerff

Todd Vanderwerff

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, three professors from SDSU will dine with the First Lady and attend a national conference.

Mary Ryder, distinguished professor of English, Kathleen Danker, professor of English and John Miller, professor of history will have breakfast with First Lady Laura Bush and then attend the two-hour by-invitation only conference entitled the White House Symposium on Women Writers of the West, according to a University Relations press release by Cindy Rickeman.

“I really think it is a nice thing that the president’s wife is pushing literacy and literature. It is a good cause and it is one that I support,” Miller said.

This year, the symposium will look at the writings of Edna Ferber, Willa Cather and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

All three professors have published exclusively on one or more of these authors.

Danker has published extensively on Willa Cather’s work. She was assistant editor to the scholarly edition of Cather’s 1913 novel “O Pioneers!” In addition, she published the article “The Influence of Willa Cather’s French-Canadian Neighbors in Nebraska in ‘Death Comes for the Archbishop’ and ‘Shadows on the Rock.'” Her article appeared in the Winter 2000 edition of the Great Plains Quarterly.

Ryder has also written numerous works on Cather, including the book “Willa Cather and Classical Myth: The Search for a New Parnassus.” She has also written many articles on Cather, including articles in a volume on “Willa Cather’s Southern Connections” (University of Virginia Press) and an article on Cather as nature writer (“Such News of the Land,” University Press of New England Press). The Willa Cather Newsletter published her article on Cather and science in summer 2001.

Miller has published two books on Laura Ingalls Wilder, including “Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town: Where History and Literature Meet” and “Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind the Legend.”

“This seemingly unremarkable woman wrote some rather remarkable books,” said Miller. “They have maintained her popularity for seventy years since her first book was published. It requires some explanation as to … why people will take pilgrimages to every place she lived as a child and as an adult.”

Miller discusses this subject at length in his books.

The invitations caught the three professors off-guard.

“We got these fancy envelopes with ‘The White House’ on them,” Danker said in the press release.

Numerous other South Dakotans with ties to the three authors will make the journey to Washington, including citizens of DeSmet, Huron and Pierre.

The previous two writers’ symposiums featured Mark Twain and the Harlem Renaissance.

“I am looking forward to the discussion that goes on in the two hour seminar and working for a day at the National Archives of Congress,” Miller said.