Author, former IU English professor Scott Russell Sanders: ‘True art emerges out of the desire to shape something’

Guest post courtesy of IU Newsroom colleague Jaclyn Lansbery:

Every time my two young nieces get their hands on a palette of paint colors, they seize the chance to create something colorful they can give to my mother, who proudly hangs their artwork on the refrigerator door like masterpieces. My mother then, of course, is left to clean up the mess.

Scott Russell Sanders

Scott Russell Sanders. Credit: Steve Raymer

Retired IU English professor Scott Russell Sanders argues that many artists begin from the impulse to make their art a gift – just like kids who draw pictures in preschool.

The author of more than 20 fiction and nonfiction books, Sanders recently made his latest novel “Divine Animal” downloadable for free on his website. He also arranged for a small print edition of the book,  which he has been giving away to family, friends and colleagues.

“True art emerges out of the desire to shape something, to express something, to take pleasure in the medium, which might be paint or it might be words or it might be music,” he told Art at IU. “And the fundamental impulse is to give it away, is to create something and send it out into the world – maybe share it with a small circle of friends or reach out to more people.”

Sanders joined the faculty of IU’s Department of English within the College of Arts and Sciences in 1971 and retired in 2009, but continues to teach writing workshops throughout the country. He said he was able to digitally publish his book for free because he makes his living through being a teacher.

"Divine Animal"

Former IU English professor Scott Russell Sanders made his latest book “Divine Animal” available for free on his website.

“If it only has a modest readership, that doesn’t bother me,” he said, adding that he recognizes many artists need to make a living through their work. “What matters to me is the making of the story, the creation of the world of the novel. However many or few readers find their way to the book, I hope it gives them pleasure.”

“Divine Animal” follows six characters – a runaway teenager and a folk singer, for example – bound together by a secret trauma. Set in the present day, the novel takes place in four different settings throughout the U.S. that have each made an impression on Sanders’ life, including Bloomington, which Sanders has proudly called home for the past 42 years. The other locations include a farm in Vermont, Northeastern Ohio and Marquette, Mich.

Through his books, Sanders explores themes of community, nature, family, ethics and place in a variety of modes. While teaching at IU as Distinguished Professor, he taught courses in British and American literature and writing workshops in fiction and nonfiction.

Sanders started using an e-reader in preparation for a lecture tour in Alaska last year, and was surprised by how comfortable he was reading books on a device that would fit into a coat pocket. So far he has read books in the public domain, available free on the Internet – classics such as works by John Muir, Thomas Hardy, William James and Anton Chekhov.

“Divine Animal” can be downloaded from his website, and is available in Kindle, iPad, Nook, PC or Mac formats.

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