My personal library hosts titles by Michael Pollan, Rachel Carson and Annie Dillard. Environmental literature is the backbone of my degree and the inspiration for my interviews in the 12th issue of Superstition Review. In addition to my degrees in literature and journalism, I am working toward a certificate in Environmental Humanities. As an interview editor for Superstition Review this semester, I decided to combine all of my pursuits and interview authors who write on environmental themes.
The community of environmental writers is actually fairly diverse, ranging from the scientific to the spiritual, and often complicating the division between those two. I looked for a set of authors who demonstrate the depth and diversity of my subject, and was thrilled to compile such a respected list: William Kittredge, Linda Hogan, LeAnne Howe, Larry Woiwode, and Kim Barnes.
At one point, in the depths of my research, I came across a book of poetry by Linda Hogan with an introduction by William Kittredge. In this introduction, he writes, “The actual – that impossibly complex metaphor where we are, at sea in ourselves, terrified and reminded that we could also calm down and enjoy some last few chances at rapture as it is said some do when sure they are perishing … Linda helps us see freshly, blinders off.” At the time, all five literary voices had been in my head, talking over one another. But within a few brief pages, I had begun to understand their voices as a conversation. Now I see their distinct philosophies and representations of the natural world intersecting to create new literary landscapes.
When I began to translate my research into questions, I found that I was often drawn to the works’ rich, natural scenes. As a writer and reader, I’m fascinated by the importance of place in a text. Each of the authors I selected root their texts in a distinctive place – they took me to the snowy roads of North Dakota, the dunes of Saudi Arabia, and the rice fields of Vietnam. Though their subjects and styles vary, each author demonstrates a spiritual connection to nature. Whether in Kittredge’s memoir about life on a southern Oregon farm or Howe’s poem about an embodied Choctaw corn woman, the earth was central. In fact, the earth was often cast as a character rather than simply a setting, a force rather than a passive landscape. I want to know how these writers imbue land with life.
I’m not only interested in the vivid scenes they create, but also their personal views on environmental issues. Throughout my research, I found myself wondering about Linda Hogan’s philosophy on hunting and LeAnne Howe’s understanding of land stewardship. I’m curious about how the literary and the political intersect in their writing and their lives. When and how does nature become politicized, I wonder.
With their diverse places and politics, each of these writers has broadened my understanding of “environmental” writing. Silent Spring and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek are surely crucial texts for the environmental reader, but these contemporary voices of fiction, the ones I’ve had the pleasure of exploring, are also enlightening. Ultimately, I’ve found that the only parameter to environmental literature is a consideration for the natural world and the exploration of our relationship to that world. I hope these interviews create new landscapes of meaning for our readers as well.