The 2021 Convention Theme, “Metamorphoses,” invites you to reflect on the many ways we are transformed throughout our lives. We are transformed by myriad personal experiences, including our education, our travel, and our tests. We are transformed by our reading and other aesthetic experiences that allow us to imagine other worlds and other selves. The Sigma Tau Delta vision statement, “Transforming the World with Words,” asserts the power of stories and communicative acts to engender change from the micro- to the macrocosmic. And in a time in our history that clearly needs fundamental changes to improve our social and political structures, reviewing our many transformations and imagining better worlds are crucial activities.
The 2021 Common Reader, Rough Beauty: Forty Seasons of Mountain Living, by Karen Auvinen, begins with a “transformative” fire. The mountain cabin where Auvinen has begun a new stage of her life is a total loss, but the most painful loss is of her computer with all of her works in progress, her labor of many years. Yet she admits that “I had always liked the idea of dramatic transformations—that your life could change in an instant.” This “Prologue” is indicative of a pattern that emerges throughout the rest of the book: transformations through losses that Auvinen struggles to overcome with pluck and intelligence as she eventually becomes determined to live alone (with some important animal companions) in the relative wilderness of the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies.
Rough Beauty is a memoir of one woman’s multiple “metamorphoses” as she seeks to carve a path for herself in a world that channels women into relatively restricted ways of being. One of the reasons for reading this book is to see the ways in which Auvinen repeatedly tries to transform herself, from good daughter to rebellious teen to poet and teacher, with many diversions along the way. She changes her name as a self-conscious metamorphosis.
She is drawn to the “wild,” the beautiful but often brutal mountain seasons that inspire her to pursue her artistic evolution. She also slowly becomes part of an unusual community of memorable characters, some driven by their own visions of the good life and others by the need to escape from urban conformity. Auvinen explores her own ambivalence about solitude and companionship, making a living with three part-time jobs—rural mail carrier, cook at the local (and only) café, and college teacher—and developing her closest relationship with her husky, Elvis, a dog whose resistance to authority and restriction echo her own.
At a difficult time in her family home, she confides, “I wanted deeply to believe in magic, the ability to transform the world with story and the spell of words.” (Long before the Sigma Tau Delta vision statement, “Transforming the World with Words,” was crafted!). The phrase “rough beauty” captures the visceral quality of life in the Colorado mountains, and is also evocative of the experiences of her readers in the challenges and epiphanies in their own metamorphoses.
I can imagine a number of ways students might respond to this work for roundtable presentations at the Sigma Tau Delta 2021 Virtual Convention. They might consider the autobiographical tradition, making connections with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, William Wordsworth, Eudora Welty, James Baldwin, Alison Bechdel, or others. They might explore aspects of the memoir genre, including the 2020 Common Reader, Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert, by Terry Tempest Williams, a writer to whom Auvinen has been compared and whom she cites. They might focus upon varieties of nature writing, thinking of Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, or many others. There is so much “rough beauty” around us, and I and the other submission readers look forward to seeing the ways you explore your own ongoing “Metamorphoses.”
Student Leadership Common Reader Video Series
Follow along with Sigma Tau Delta Student Leadership this year as they work their way through Rough Beauty chapter by chapter, analyzing how Auvinen’s memoir connects with our Convention Theme of Metamorphoses. Senior Student Advisor Amanda Ayers kicked off the series recently with an examination of the Prologue, “The Hard Prayer,” and Chapter 1, “Good Girl.”
2021 Convention Chair
Submissions are now being accepted for the Sigma Tau Delta 2021 Virtual Convention. All Roundtable Submissions are due by Monday, November 9, 2020, 11:59 p.m. Central Standard Time (CST). If you are struggling to find a topic for your roundtable proposal, check out Eastern Regent Felicia Jean Steele’s blog “Roundtables: I’m a Fan, and You Will Be, Too” for advise from her past experience both in helping students to create roundtables and in attending roundtable sessions.
The Convention Chair invites Convention Submissions on a wide range of topics, including the Common Reader. See Roundtable Submissions page for a general listing of suggested areas, although submitters may also choose a topic of their own.
Roundtables are designed to promote discussion and exploration of a selected topic, with roundtable members and the audience participating in a scholarly and active discussion. Competition for the roundtable slots available will be lively. Among equally persuasive proposals, the convention judges will give priority to those roundtables that include members from more than one chapter and/or that cover the convention theme Metamorphoses or the 2021 Common Reader: Rough Beauty: Forty Seasons of Mountain Living.
Regents’ Common Reader Awards
Chapters can receive $100 for organizing and hosting a local event or activity around the 2021 Common Reader: Rough Beauty: Forty Seasons of Mountain Living. Chapter members do not need to attend the convention to apply for a Regents’ Common Reader Award. After the event, chapters simply apply for the award money, following the guidelines posted at english.org. Award applications should be emailed on or before February 15, 2021, to the appropriate Regent. View application guidelines.