Novelist and essayist Scott Russell Sanders has been teaching English at Indiana University since 1971. He has published more than 20 books and received numerous awards, including the John Burroughs Essay Award and the Mark Twain Award. As noted on Sanders' website, his work "examines the human place in nature, the pursuit of social justice, the relation between culture and geography, and the search for a spiritual path."
In the essay "Under the Influence," which first appeared in Harper's magazine in November 1989, Sanders recalls growing up in Ohio with an alcoholic father, "a man consumed by disease rather than by disappointment." In the following passage, he uses a series of concise examples to demonstrate his point that what had once seemed "a private grief" was in fact "a public scourge."
from "Under the Influence"
by Scott Russell Sanders
How far a man could slide was gauged by observing our back-road neighbors--the out-of-work miners who had dragged their families to our corner of Ohio from the desolate hollows of Appalachia, the tightfisted farmers, the surly mechanics, the balked and broken men. There was, for example, whiskey-soaked Mr. Jenkins, who beat his wife and kids so hard we could hear their screams from the road. There was Mr. Lavo the wino, who fell asleep smoking time and again, until one night his disgusted wife bundled up the children and went outside and left him in his easy chair to burn; he awoke on his own, staggered out coughing into the yard, and pounded her flat while the children looked on and the shack turned to ash. There was the truck driver, Mr. Sampson, who tripped over his son's tricycle one night while drunk and got so mad that he jumped into his semi and drove away, shifting through the dozen gears, and never came back. We saw the bruised children of these fathers clump onto our school bus, we saw the abandoned children huddle in the pews at church, we saw the stunned and battered mothers begging for help at our doors.
Selected Works by Scott Russell Sanders:
- The Paradise of Bombs, essays (University of Georgia Press, 1987)
- Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World, essays (Beacon, 1993)
- Writing from the Center, essays (Indiana University Press, 1995)
- The Force of Spirit, essays (Beacon, 2000)
- A Private History of Awe, memoir (North Point Press, 2006)
- A Conservationist Manifesto, essays (Indiana University Press, 2009)
"Under the Influence" by Scott Russell Sanders was first published in Harper's magazine, November 1989.