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LA CROSSE, Wis.— While Roland "Buzz" Nelson happens to be Director of Admissions for Viterbo College, he’s also a renowned authority on literary giant Edgar Allan Poe. That reputation has gained him an invitation to chair a session at the International Edgar Allan Poe Conference in Richmond, Virginia, from Oct. 7-10.

The conference, which honors the sesquicentennial anniversary of Poe’s death will feature a three-person presentation of Poe’s essay Eureka. The presenters will base the session on Nelson’s book, Eureka: A Prose Poem, the Definitive Edition.

Since its publication in 1984, Nelson has acquired notoriety among Poe scholars for the book, which served as his  doctoral dissertation in English from Bowling Green State University.

When Poe died in 1849, his essay Eureka was left unfinished in several different versions. Nelson’s task was to locate the original manuscripts and reconstruct them into one understandable text.

Poe had worked on the piece for nearly five years and despite the inadequacies, it was published in 1849 just prior to his death by Putnam printers. The 147-page essay about man, nature and God was, according to Nelson, "largely unreadable, unteachable and principally incoherent."

The three original manuscripts were hand-corrected by Poe with the apparent intention of publishing a subsequent edition, but Poe died before he was able to integrate the separate manuscripts into one cohesive essay.

On his search, Nelson found that only seven printed essays remained, principally in the hands of rare book collectors. He located them all, traveling to New York, Philadelphia, Toronto and Austin, Texas, with an unusual device called a "Collaborator" to check for any variance in text from book to book. The cost of the research was covered as part of a National Science Foundation Grant.

Nelson then scrutinized the three, handwritten, original documents for margin comments and other notes before reintroducing a new Eureka, true to the author’s original word but more clear.

"When Poe started the essay, I’m not sure he knew what he had in mind. He was influenced by the Cosmologies of Emerson and Thoreau. And some of his observations were quite interesting. Poe believed in what is now known as ‘black holes’ in the universe. Here was Poe talking about this over 100 years before the theory was validated. Now there was something coherent," says Nelson.

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