Shelley Armitage grew up in the small ranching and farming community of Vega, Texas, in Oldham County in the northwest Texas Panhandle. She still owns and operates the family farm inherited from her parents.
Her dad purchased the 1200 acres for $3.00 an acre in l929, native grass, wheat and milo farmland bordering Highway Interstate 40 on the south and the Canadian River breaks on the north, a landscape Armitage shared from childhood. She rode with her father and grandfather to check crops and cattle, later jogging and more recently walking the farm roads.
Most of her adult life has been spent away from the Panhandle as a university professor in Texas, New Mexico, and Hawai’i, but Armitage always has returned to the “farm”—mainly in summers—which offered until recently a 360 degree view of earth and sky. Witnessing the natural world and its changes remains for her a centering and care-giving activity.
Restoration and conservation of land for Armitage is both an ecological and aesthetic necessity. She has converted the farmland to conservation grass planted to restore fragmented landscapes by recreating wildlife corridors and habitat. “Writing llano,” as she calls the intimately physical and intellectual sensitivity to place in her memoir, is a restorative act where memories and stories may reconnect people and places through time.
Armitage’s professional life has offered her a more philosophical connection with landscape through studies of photography, environmental literature, cultural and place studies. Choosing to live and work in diverse places—Fulbright grants in Portugal, Poland, Finland, study in Ethiopia, teaching in the Southwest and Hawai’i, researching in New York, Washington, D.C., Oregon, Illinois ,Missouri, Connecticut—place has taken on special meanings and prompted new curiosities. Author of eight books and over fifty articles and essays, she has held a Fulbright Chair in Warsaw, a Distinguished Senior Professorship in Cincinnati, and the Dorrance Roderick Professorship in El Paso, as well as National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, and Rockefeller grants. She is professor emerita at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her scholarship and writing focuses on the arts, popular culture, gender studies, biography, nonfiction, and poetry.
Even as the heartland remains in the Panhandle, the compass foot reaches out. She spends part of each year in Las Cruces, New Mexico.