David Mazel to continue scholarly work in retirement

(07-31-2014)

The passions that drove his academic career will continue to occupy Dr. David Mazel in retirement. His specialty, ecocriticism, melds his love of writing, the environment, and rock climbing. Originally from Los Angeles, the Emeritus Professor of English anticipates spending more time with all three pursuits once he relocates to Bishop, California, which will place him closer to family, climbing, and the mountains.

Mazel retired this spring from Adams State University, his alma mater, as chair of the Department of English, Theatre & Communications, a post he held since 2010. He earned a B.A. in Selected Studies and an M.A. in English at Adams State in 1985 and 1987, respectively. He completed a Ph.D. in English from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in 1996. Prior to joining the Adams State faculty in 1997, he taught at a similar institution, the University of West Alabama.

"I really believe in the social mission of this kind of school," Mazel said. "We need quality higher education for students that won't get it anywhere else. Prestigious schools like Harvard merely replicate the existing social order. Schools like Adams State are dedicated to improving it." Although he is proud of many students, he considers his most successful to have been a young woman who became active with social justice efforts in Mexico. "I would like to think her experience at Adams State had something to do with that."

In addition to teaching various levels of communication arts, advanced composition, literature, and literary theory, Mazel's duties have included advising the Paw Print student newspaper (formerly the South Coloradan) and The Sandhill Review literary and arts magazine (formerly Genesis), as well as serving on the Communications Board, which oversees all student media. Mazel also served on the steering committee for the remodeling of the ES Building, now McDaniel Hall, and coordinated the design/remodel of the Haynie Center for Mass Communications in the Student Union Building. The Haynie Center boasts technology to support digital production of print, radio, and new video courses - something Mazel would have loved as an undergraduate, when he was editor of the South Coloradan. "The Mac Classic made my job so much easier." Later, Mazel spent a year as editor of the Valley Courier.

He recalled the "best story" he wrote for the South Coloradan, about a classmate who was a Cambodian refugee. "When he was 13, he was arrested and tortured. He had a hell of a story."

Mazel is working to publish his latest book, The Ecology of Utopia, which explores the relations between the natural environment and notions of an ideal society. His fascination with utopian and dystopian science fiction - the subject of a senior seminar he taught last year - stems from his grounding in ecocriticism. That field, he explained, views literature "as if nature matters," and explores how environmental concerns affect the reader, possibly touching on politics or issues of survival.

Mazel's 2000 book, American Literary Environmentalism, shows that early environmental writings constituted a form of cultural politics that began with the colonial confrontation with the wilderness and culminated in the creation of the U.S.'s first national park at Yosemite in 1864. "The wilderness was more than nature, it served in literature to embody value, representing the democratic frontier, with various cultural/political/ideological ramifications. Wilderness served those functions. I still believe wilderness serves that role. "The utopian form has always been environmental; utopia is an environment that supports an ideal society. About half of science fiction is dystopian: the worst possible society." He cited the literary examples of 1984, Brave New World, and the Hunger Games.

In addition to writing about and experiencing the environment, Mazel also plans to volunteer more with Restore Hetch-Hetchy (Yosemite's Hetch-Hetchy Valley) and the Endangered Languages Project. He will continue teaching through Adams State Extended Studies.

By Julie Waechter