Writing the Environment
The Wednesday evening session Writing the Environment held at Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (a stunningly beautiful building BTW) as part of the 2014 Windham Campbell Festival in September brought together novelist Jim Crace, nonfiction writer John Vaillant, and a performance writer (me). We were joined by Verlyn Klinkenborg (author of one of my favourite books: Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile), and the panel was chaired by Professor Fred Strebeigh.
The session ran for an hour—not enough time to discuss our different approaches to writing about environmental matters—but hopefully enough to give the audience a sense of the nature and environments that interest us and the words we use to write about them.
The questions we were asked to consider were along these lines:
How does your thinking about and experience of the natural environment influence and shape your work?
Do you want your work to affect readers’/audiences’ attitudes? If so, how?
What are the advantages and limitations of your particular form/genre for writing about this subject?
One of the features of this session that particularly appealed to me was the bringing together of writers of fiction, nonfiction and performance. We so often get grouped in our particular silos, and there we stay—despite the fact that many of us work across more than one form. So this was a rare and welcome conversation. As you’d expect, there was a lot of common ground, but there were also differences of approach, intention, style, voice …
Jim talked about how walked-over, recorded, and cultivated the English landscape is and how it holds within its contours deep layers of knowledge and history. John described how he came to his story of the vexed relationship between the tiger and the local population in a remote village in Russia’s Far East. Verlyn gave us a glimpse of a project-in-progress that explores a debate about humankind’s laws conducted by animals. And I spoke about thistles (of course) and feral narratives and inland seas and rivers that flowed against the tide of nineteenth century geographical knowledge.
Aligned with this session, I did an interview with Timothy Brown for Sage Magazine. Read it here.