Regular Friday Institute

October 8, 2010

Complimentary Buffet 6:30
(Please make reservation)
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Program 7:15

Macalester Hall of Fame Room in the new Leonard Center.

Macalester College is at the intersection of Snelling Ave. and Grand Ave. in Saint Paul.


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October 8, 2010 - Presentation

Dan O'Brien
Author and Environmentalist

Buffalo for the Broken Heart.

Dan O’Brien is the author of nine books, including THE
CONTRACT SURGEON, winner of the 2000 Western Heritage Award for Fiction, and EMINENT DOMAIN, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award. In addition to being one of the prominent writers of the Great Plains, O’Brien is a renowned naturalist, historian, and falconer. He has taught creative writing at the U-Iowa Workshop and Grinnell, and he is the Headley Distinguished Visitor-in-Residence in environmental studies at Carleton College, where he teaches a seminar every spring. Dan’s non-fiction BUFFALO FOR THE BROKEN HEART established him as an important authority on agricultural sustainability, while it describes his conversion from cattleman to bison rancher on the wild prairie between the Badlands National Park and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Part autobiography, part history, part naturalist diary, the book interrogates grand mythic narratives so fundamental to the American psyche (the Cowboy, thepioneered land, the “building” of the nation), while asking the most personal question of “what it takes to pluck a life from the jaws of mediocrity and what is required to make it noble.
O’Brien is a two-time winner of the National Endowment for the Arts individual artist’s grant and the Western Heritage Award, as well as a 2001 recipient of the Bush Creative Arts Fellowship. He currently spends his time teaching ecology and writing, serving on the Board of Wildlife Experiences and the Black Hills branch of The Nature Conservancy. We consider this another premier engagement for The Institute, asking for ourselves "what it takes to pluck a life from the jaws of mediocrity and what is required to make it noble."

Please note that this program will be in The Hall Of Fame Room in the new Leonard Center at Macalester.



Director's Notes:
R. Alan James

Shakespeare wrote this memorable idea in the play Hamlet: “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king..” For many of us that line remains a curious aphoriism until some play, or novel, or essay has the power to penetrate
the ethical sphere of our lives. Dan O’Brien’s book Buffalo For The Broken Heart
is laden with power to catch conscience. He does it by inviting us into his life and experience in the neighboring territory called Dakota. It is the Dakota of the present and the Dakota of the sea of grasses with unnumbered herds of Bison.
What happened in the last century and a half of advance on the prairie has brought
the larger ecological question to the fore: what is sustainability? And further, “can sustainability in land use, agriculture, human culture, be assured simply by using more human technology?” Or force?
In our October program, Dan O’Brien’s book leads us to these questions the way William Shakespeare meant to lead us with the play. It comes with the consummate skill of a master writer.

In the September Director's Notes we made the assertion that our institute's subject matter is The Creation. Human enterprise is what we do, how we look at the world, how we behave, and how we fashion materials (the artist/inventor play and work) to become integral and harmonious with the creation. Or disintegral.
In September our guide was Kathleen Weflen who quickened us to the complex marvels of environment. She was the pointer, and we the lookers. With Dan O'Brien we'll continue to scrutinize that relationship with particular attention to issues of sustainability in our enterprise, and how we properly consider the harmonics of living in this vast Garden of Eden. Garden of Eden? Well, yes. We'll touch some of those issues purposefully without being overly silly about apples and fig leaves.