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Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
  • Local professor's book offers unique view of region

  • It started simply enough. Bill Conlogue was curious about the region he's always called home, and that curiosity set him on a path to researching and writing his new book.
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  • It started simply enough. Bill Conlogue was curious about the region he's always called home, and that curiosity set him on a path to researching and writing his new book.
    "I wanted to learn more about northeastern Pennsylvania," he explained, "and I wanted to think about how literature and history help me to understand where I live and work."
    The end result was his recently-published work, "Here and There" (subtitle: "Reading Pennsylvania's Working Landscapes"), a scholarly but narrative-driven book filled with nearly 250 pages of information as well as a dozen illustrations and two maps on the subject.
    In his time growing up and living in the region, it's a subject that has always interested him. Conlogue's mother was a Carbondalean who grew up on the West Side. But when the mine fire disrupted community life there, and her first husband was declared missing in action near the end of the Korean War, she relocated to Scranton. She remarried in 1962 and the family moved to a farm in Pleasant Mount. Conlogue was born the following year and grew up on that farm.
    And in his work as Professor of English at Marywood University, Conlogue knew he could bring unique insight from the world of literature in which he's immersed himself for so long, as well as other important fields like history and law.
    His book contains six chapters, plus a coda, which address issues that are both local and national in scope, such as problems related to water quality, resource extraction, and waste management.
    "I examine not only how everyday nature gets represented in literature, but also how literature has helped me to understand my connections to home," he explained.
    In the writing, Conlogue employs what is known as "narrative scholarship," which he says brings the world and literature together in an exciting form. After all, he argues, the best of literature "teaches us something about the world; it's not simply a display of verbal virtuosity. Is it really possible to read 'The Grapes of Wrath,' for example, and not think through the social and economic dilemmas its characters confront?"
    He incorporates everything from landmark Supreme Court cases to the poetry of Robert Frost in "Here and There" to present a thorough examination of northeastern Pennsylvania — with each chapter beginning here at home, journeying elsewhere, then returning to the region. Along the way, his book explores tensions and conflicts within the region created by national and global demand for its resources: fertile farmland, forest products, anthracite coal, and college-educated young people.
    Conlogue writes about the mine fire that affected his own family, and so many others, and also examines some cultural markers connected to Carbondale. For instance, he takes a fresh look at the 1970 film "Wanda," written and directed by Barbara Loden, who also starred in the title role. The movie has a key scene filmed in Carbondale City Hall as well as a quick shot of Loden standing in front of the war memorial across the street, and Conlogue notes: "The name of my mother's first husband is listed on that war memorial."
    Page 2 of 2 - In addition, he analyzes a poem by Karen Blomain entitled "Carbondale Cave-In" in the book.
    Most importantly of all, with the global economy threatening the uniqueness of places, people, and experiences, Conlogue "tests the assumption that literature and local places matter less and less in a world that economists describe as 'flat,' politicians believe has 'globalized,' and social scientists imagine as a 'global village.' Making connections between local and global environmental issues, this book book uses the Pennsylvania watersheds of urban Lackawanna and rural Lackawaxen to highlight the importance of understanding and protecting the places we call home."
    Echoing the optimistic tone of the book, Conlogue states: "As I look at my home, I see that although dark sites remain, some brown fields are, in fact, greening."
    "Here and There" is a widely-reviewed and highly-commended book which has been praised for its "nuanced, multilayered act of attention to the realities of land use and land thought in northeastern Pennsylvania." It is available from the publisher, Penn State University Press, or can be purchased online at amazon.com.
    Conlogue is also the author of the 2001 book "Working the Garden: American Writers and the Industrialization of Agriculture."
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