"This is as close as I will come to winning an Academy Award," joked Dr. Steven Trout, professor of English, in his scholarly address Thursday, Oct. 14. Trout was presented the President's Distinguished Scholar Award during the annual Faculty Convocation program.
Campus faculty, staff, students and area residents filled most of the seats in the Black and Gold Ballroom of Memorial Union to listen to Trout deliver his address, "Seeing the Rattlesnake in Willa Cather's My Antonia."
Trout said Cather has always been a favorite author of his because of her ties to the Great Plains. His infatuation with Cather has proven to be the catalyst to his most significant achievement as a scholar, leading to several publications.
" Writing is a lonely, isolated activity. I wish I was not drawn to it the way I was," Trout said, but he smiled when he said it.
Trout was honored for his research and analysis of a four-and-a-half page scene in "My Antonia" in which the narrator kills a large rattlesnake after stumbling upon it.
Trout called the passage "the greatest snake scene in American literature," while he pointed out the mysteries within it.
His extensive research on the subject of rattlesnakes, specifically the prairie rattler featured in the novel, eventually brought him to Red Cloud, NE, to search records of reported rattlesnake attacks around the time the book was published.
Trout said he found nothing, and that discovery was the key to explaining the symbolism behind the book's passage. Trout said Cather created her own snake folklore by bundling rattlesnake myths and history into this single passage.
During his address, Trout debunked current rattlesnake myths while showing several slides of rattlesnake photos taken by Andrew Holycross.
" I know more about this topic than most English professors should," Trout said, pointing out the facial feature that classifies rattlesnakes as pit vipers.
Trout's published article on this topic has been touted by many as being the best in its field.
Trout's critically lauded resume boasts three books, an introduction to a book, 11 articles and chapters in books, 10 non-refereed publications and two articles under review. He is currently working on a book on American World War I fiction and a second book on Cather.
The President's Distinguished Scholar Award was first bestowed in 1989 at the suggestion of the Faculty Senate. Since then, President Edward H. Hammond has conferred the honor on a faculty member each year.
Nominees for the President's Distinguished Scholar Award are evaluated for their performance in service and instruction with the primary focus placed on their research and creative activities.
Trout received a check for $1,500, a certificate, lapel pin and a medallion especially designed for the award by Jim Hinkhouse, FHSU emeritus professor of art. A plaque recognizing Trout will also be mounted in the Memorial Union.
" For everyone who has attended the previous convocations honoring our faculty, they will have noticed that the variety has been phenomenal and represents the creativity of FHSU faculty," Hammond said. "Steve takes it to a whole new level."
" Steve stands out as a true paramount of the liberal arts instructor," Hammond said.