Friday, April 26, 2019
April 26, 2019: Earth Day Studying: Contemporary Works
[The 49th annual Earth Day is April 22nd, so this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of environmental stories and histories. Share yours in comments to help us celebrate this wonderful and all too often underappreciated home of ours!]
On three recent books that carry the legacy of environmental writing into the 21st century.
1) Coming of Age at the End of Nature: A Generation Faces Living on a Changed Planet (2016): Edited by Julie Dunlap and Susan A. Cohen, this wonderful collection gathers together a wide variety of writers (twenty-two in total, as well as an introduction by the great Bill McKibben) and genres to consider what environmental writing and activism are and can be in this bleak historical moment. I excerpted a few pieces from it for my Spring 2017 adult learning class on contemporary issues and they were very well-received, but I would really argue that the book works best when read as a whole, putting these individual voices in conversation and community to exemplify the subtitle’s generational cohort as fully as possible.
2) Breaking into the Backcountry (2010): I’ve highlighted my FSU colleague Steve Edwards in a number of posts over the years, and in terms of his evolving writing career have been particularly inspired by his recent pieces on both parenting and reading. But Steve’s first book, the magisterial Breaking into the Backcountry, is likewise great and indeed represents a worthy heir to works like Desert Solitaire by yesterday’s subject Edward Abbey. As I said about Abbey’s 1968 book, a 2010 project on the importance and inspiration of spending nearly a year in solitude in nature might seem a bit too divorced from the social and communal issues facing us collectively these days. But like Desert Solitaire and Walden and so many other great works, Steve’s thoughtful and moving book proves that the opposite is true: that we need such books and writing now more than ever.
3) Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape (2016): We also need books that can bridge those only superficial gaps between (for example) nature and society, individual experience and collective history, and I know of few works (recent or otherwise) that do so more potently than Lauret Savoy’s Trace. Savoy, a geologist and Professor of Environmental Studies at Mount Holyoke College, links those scientific and scholarly pursuits to both her own and America’s multi-racial heritage and identity, and the result is a book that truly exemplifies interdisciplinary engagements with some of our most complex and shared collective spaces and themes. Trace seems to me to be a key reflection of the future of environmental writing (and a key part of the future of American Studies to boot), and an illustration, like all three of these books, that that future is in very good hands.
April 2019 Recap this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Earth Day stories or histories you’d highlight?