University of South Carolina

Laura Dassow Walls

English professor wins Guggenheim award


Dr. Laura Dassow Walls has long wanted to write a biography of Henry David Thoreau that introduces him to a new generation and connects him to the 21st century. With the recent award of a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, the English professor will be able to achieve her goal.

Walls said the classic misunderstanding about Thoreau is that he was a hermit who disappeared into the wilderness and wrote Walden.

Truth is, Walden Pond was just a half mile from his home, a bustling boarding house, and a pencil factory, she said. After spending a couple of years meditating and writing, Thoreau returned to a busy and active life as a surveyor and civil engineer who pursued many interests.

Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau

"This notion that Thoreau was a hermit doesn't connect with the actual reality of his life. That makes him more accessible to us today," Walls said. "He was trying to find a way to live a full, engaged life and to do so in connection and contact with nature. He seems to have succeeded, which is worth exploring."

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