Montana State University

Mountains and Minds

On the edge November 24, 2009 by Michael Sexson • Published 11/24/09

MSU-based literary journal is rooted in historic eclipse
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Photo courtesy of NASAPhoto courtesy of NASA

Corona, a literary journal of poetry, stories, art, recently published its fifth version. Named for the spectral band of light that rims the sun during an eclipse, Corona was inspired by a dramatic event on the MSU campus 30 years ago. Michael Sexson, MSU professor of English, and cofounder of Corona along with Lynda Sexson, MSU professor of humanities, tells the story of the journal and its birth.

In February 1979, MSU was home to Eclipse '79, a conference that brought together artists, scientists, philosophers, community organizers and uncategorizable others. Five days of events were to culminate in a viewing of the solar eclipse at 9:24 a.m. Feb. 26. As one of the principal organizers of the event, I knew that witnessing a cloud-free eclipse was unlikely that morning, given weather predictions.

Undaunted, a group of about 200 people assembled at the Museum of the Rockies where a platform had been built especially for John Woodenlegs, a tribal elder of the Northern Cheyenne tribe who would bless the event. A few minutes before totality, a large cloud drifted toward the sun. Given the cloud's slow movement, it was more than likely to occlude the view of the eclipse.

But seconds before totality, as Woodenlegs chanted in his native language, the cloud parted in the middle. A hush fell over the audience. The crowd looked upwards. At that moment, a local photographer took a photo: the faces are filled with amazement, fulfillment and bliss. Then darkness.

We heard shouts of joy from across the rest of campus. But at the museum there was an awe-struck silence.

The MSU-based journal Corona was born from that experience. Edited by the directors of Eclipse '79, Corona is dedicated to visions that come in the darkening light, insights that originate on the edge rather than in the center of things.

It's on the edge where things begin to be interesting, the interface, where one thing turns into another. And so we've tried to exploit the metaphor of the edge in our various volumes of Corona.

-Michael Sexson
Through the years, four volumes of Corona have been produced in traditional print form. That means, from the outside at least, those versions look like a fairly typical literary journal. This year, the 30th anniversary of the eclipse brings us Corona 5. It appears not as a book, but a box filled with items meant to be touched, examined, sniffed, wondered about.

For instance, writer David Quammen, the former Stegner Chair at MSU, contributed an essay that plays with the idea of the map. Greg Keeler, a poet and professor of English at MSU, created a tiny haiku alphabet primer. Trudy Laas Skari, a farmer, political activist, and artist, designed a small clay tablet that explores the significance of place. Even MSU President Geoff Gamble has retold a traditional story of a California Indian tribe about baskets in the form of a piece of paper that folds neatly into a basket shape.

In this time when text and image are rapidly evolving, Corona remains a publication on the edge. Like its namesake, the journal does not represent the center of current writing and thought but that which is produced at the bright, creative edge.