A Tribute to Scott Slovic, ISLE Editor, 1995-2020

Scott Slovic, editor of ASLE’s journal Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (ISLE) for the past 25 years, was able to join EcoCast hosts Jemma Deer and Brandon Galm on June 24, 2020, to discuss his career, environmental studies past and future, and his upcoming retirement from the position. EcoCast is a new ASLE podcast that will launch in July.  Hear the interview here:

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Scott Slovic, photo by Susan Bender

“Who has the tape gun?” Richard bellows. “I think Alicia had it,” Masami answers, “but we’re running out of journals. We need more.” As if on cue, Tom appears in the doorway of FH 101, pushing a handcart with a new tower of ISLEs. We must stay on task and finish the job asap because a pizza delivery is on its way. The scene is the semi-annual ISLE mailing party in Scott Slovic’s basement office at the University of Nevada, Reno. In the early days of ISLE, when the journal was print only, Scott would email a call for volunteers to Literature & Environment grad students and faculty, announcing that the new batch of ISLEs was ready to be prepared for bulk mailing. My memory is hazy, but I seem to recall that we had to sort the ISLE mailing list by zip code, stick address labels on envelopes, stuff a journal into each envelope, seal it, and make stacks of journals destined for specific zips. Scott would walk around with a clipboard, recording on the US Postal Service bulk mailing form how many journals were being sent to each zip code. Journals with the same zip code or zip code range had to be boxed together. International addresses were set aside to be mailed individually at a higher rate. Our team of L&E students and professors chattered, chuckled, and chortled, unpaid assembly line workers happy for a reprieve from the mental rigors of our desk work to pitch in and do manual labor for a good cause. After all, we of the inner sanctum were sending out another issue of ISLE into the world!

When I think of the towering stacks of ISLEs, each volume sporting a gnarled, black bristlecone pine tree, silhouetted against a different solid color–v. 11 celestial blue, v. 18 brick red, v. 21 curry, v. 24 jade, v. 26 salmon–and when I recall the wall of cardboard-brown, boxed journals that we erected at every mailing party, material ecocriticism suddenly makes sense. Those boxes were heavy. Scott’s office was near the downstairs bathrooms, and anyone heading for the loo and glancing into the open door of ISLE headquarters was treated to a scene of seeming chaos. Scott presided over this beehive of activity with unruffled calm and a soft-spoken voice, radiating serene faith that everything would work out. Somehow it always did.

Take a deep breath. Like the next sentence, the duties of a journal editor seem to go on forever. The editor (or an assistant trained and supervised by the editor) logs every submission and tracks it through the process, maintaining accurate records of every step; vets every submission and decides whether to reject, redirect, or send it for outside review, communicating this decision to the author as constructively as possible; maintains a list of outside reviewers and contacts them as needed, gives them instructions, and nudges them along to meet deadlines; based on the outside review results, accepts or diplomatically communicates reject, revise, or revise-and-resubmit instructions to the author; supervises another round of review for revised essays; reminds and, if necessary, hounds contributors to follow directions and meet deadlines, and scrambles for a substitution if they flake; edits, proofreads, and prepares each piece for publication; decides which pieces belong in which issue of the journal, determines a logical order for those pieces, assembles the journal issue, and writes an editor’s note; coordinates with the book review editor; coordinates with advertisers and associations to provide advertisement and announcement copy; formats everything and double-checks it; submits the file to the publisher to enter production; maintains records of income and expenses; negotiates with the journal’s sponsors and university administrators to keep the journal solvent; handles a steady stream and sometimes a flood of emails, comprising inquiries, updates, complaints, boasts, requests, rants, and cris de coeur; courts high-profile authors; maintains open lines of communication with the journal’s professional association and editorial board; oversees outgoing and incoming members of the editorial board; recruits distinguished scholars and writers to serve on the advisory board; negotiates terms with the journal’s publisher; adapts to new computers and software as technology changes; juggles multiple journal issues simultaneously, each at a different stage of development; keeps up on emerging scholars and trends so that the journal stays current; actively shapes the field by proactively soliciting new work and enlisting guest editors for special issues. Any journal editor could quickly add duties I’ve overlooked to this basic job description. A journal editor leads from behind the scenes.

Sounds like a full-time job, doesn’t it? However, at least at UNR, Scott did not receive even one course release for his work on ISLE. Besides editing the journal and carrying the normal responsibilities of a full-time faculty member, Scott did much more. He supervised an extraordinarily high number of MA and PhD students. He hosted a robust influx of visiting international students and scholars, organizing weekly reading groups with them, a de facto overload class. He hosted an impressive list of visiting scholars and creative writers. He organized lectures, readings, symposia, and conferences. He wrote more than one thousand letters of recommendation. He reviewed, wrote forewords and afterwords, and blurbed dozens of books. He authored, coauthored, edited, or coedited more than twenty-five books, including Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing, Going Away to Think, Getting Over the Color Green, Numbers and Nerves, and Ecocriticism of the Global South. He published articles in huge-circulation periodicals such as Environment and The New York Times. He served as a consultant to other universities, organizations, and federal offices. He stepped in as emergency interim director of the Core Writing program at UNR for a year, and he served a four-year term as chair of the Department of English at the University of Idaho. And he traveled. Man, did he travel. Scott delivered more than one hundred keynote addresses in more than twenty countries, from Argentina to Turkey, Lebanon to South Africa, and Australia to Malaysia. He held visiting appointments at more than twenty-five universities, from Japan to Finland, China to France, and Taiwan to India. Look at the list of ASLE international affiliates, and chances are that Scott helped that group get organized. Scott’s work spanned the range of high-profile and grunt-work assignments. And he is still going strong.

How does Scott do it? That question has puzzled me for more than thirty years. I have hatched some theories. Supporting Scott’s productivity is supreme confidence; rarely is he handicapped by self-doubt. Scott is a fast reader and can function on little sleep. He delegates, trusting assistants and volunteers to handle significant levels of responsibility; he does not micromanage. He collaborates. He takes advantage of every scrap of time–writing conference papers on the plane, teaching a class session remotely from his hotel room in a foreign country, researching a nature writer while the two of them are hiking, answering emails on his phone while waiting for a meeting to start, assigning a book that he plans to write about. Scott has the ability to focus and not be distracted or derailed by ambient chaos. He is emotionally calm; what others view as a crisis bemuses Scott as a minor hurdle. Like a distance runner training to set a new world record, Scott enjoys the challenge of pushing himself and expanding his limits. He adapts to change and learns from experience. And, by Scott’s own self-description, he is a monomaniac, meaning that the vast majority of his waking hours and conscious thought are dedicated to his ecocritical mission. Scott’s brain has become wired for this work.

In his twenty-five years at the helm of ISLE, Scott has helped the journal evolve from print-only to print and digital formats and from bi-annual to quarterly publication by Oxford University Press. He has made space in the journal–and thereby in the field–for creative writing and narrative scholarship. He has given the journal–and thereby the field–an international reach by publishing critical studies of world literature and by inviting international scholars to publish in ISLE. He has managed to strike a fruitful balance between accessible critical studies and abstruse theory and between academic and activist articles. In ISLE, backpackers and bookworms, young hotshots and graying sages symbiotically share the same habitat. Through his generous and visionary leadership, Scott has opened up and broadened the field of Literature and Environment studies. Although the work of an editor is often invisible, its impact can be great.

Even as we acknowledge ISLE‘s significance to the field, let us not forget the tangible difference ISLE has made in the lives of individual people. How many of you had your first essay or perhaps a publication toward tenure published in ISLE? And how many came across an article in ISLE that lit your fire, gave you an idea, or introduced you to a book or an author who became important in your research and teaching or that opened a conversation that you eventually joined? How many of you eagerly trolled the book review section of ISLE to keep up with the field and make sure that no one had scooped your work-in-progress? How many of you found that the gravitas of ISLE–indeed, its mere existence–conferred institutional legitimacy on your own work? How many of you met future collaborators or future colleagues through ISLE? No doubt there are even ISLE love stories out there–people who connected through ISLE and went on to become lovers and partners, the “L” and the “E” in ISLE blossoming into Love and Engagement.

Given the role of ISLE in so many of our lives, as Scott now retires from ISLE editorship after a quarter century at the helm, I think it would mean a lot to him if we thank him personally for his hard work on behalf of our field. Please consider sending Scott a brief or long-winded email, sharing a story or random memory of ISLE in your life: [email protected]

—Cheryll Glotfelty

Cheryll Glotfelty was a co-founding officer of ASLE in 1992 with Scott Slovic and Mike Branch. In 1996 she and Harold Fromm co-edited The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Cheryll and Scott were colleagues at the University of Nevada, Reno, for seventeen years, 1995-2012, and are still good friends. Cheryll is currently Professor Emerita of Literature and Environment and has become an avid slackliner and aspiring highliner.

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Two years into my fledgling effort to establish ISLE as a journal for ecocriticism, concurrent with the founding of ASLE-US, the dean of the college at the university where I worked at the time cut funding for journals to balance her budget. I was able to produce one more volume before proposing that ASLE make it the official association journal and find it a new home. Although personally painful, having my intellectual offspring adopted was a most fortunate turn of events. Scott stepped forward to become the new editor and brought to the journal organizational skills of which I was sorely lacking. As he built it into the preeminent American ecocritical journal, he also used his global range of contacts to make it international in scope. After years of highly successful biennial publishing and with a growing backlog of quality submissions, he took on the daunting task of making it a quarterly and achieved a stunning publishing arrangement with Oxford University Press. What he accomplished in his years as editor far exceeded what I could only imagine for the journal some thirty years ago.

—Patrick D. Murphy, Professor Emeritus
   University of Central Florida