by Becca Nelson
When people think about “nature” or “environmental” writing, writers like Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, and John Muir often come to mind. However, more recently, the canon of environmental writing has expanded to include a greater diversity of voices and perspectives. In the 21st century, writers are increasingly sharing stories about environmental justice, climate change, and other intersectional facets of sustainability.
Here I list ten really amazing creative nonfiction and poetry books about social-environment issues that have been published within the last thirty years. This is by no means a comprehensive list. More just some reflections on books I’ve nerded out over. I was able to access most of these books through the Stanford Libraries.
1. The Turquoise Ledge by Leslie Marmon Silko
This vivid memoir came out in 2010. Silko, a Laguna Pueblo writer, interweaves stories of her family’s history and discussions of spirituality with walks through the Sonoran desert in Arizona.
2. Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape by Lauret Savoy.
Savoy, an earth scientist, published this narrative nonfiction book in 2015. Savoy examines the interconnections between the histories of her multiracial family and the geologic histories embedded in the American landscape. She discusses race and the environment from a range of places, including the US-Mexico borderlands and Washington DC.
3. Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush
Rush, currently a lecturer at Brown University, published this book of narrative journalism in 2018. Incisive and elegiac, she examines how sea level rise is currently impacting a variety of communities across America’s coasts as well as the salt marsh ecosystems they rely on.
4. The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams
Williams, one of the most talented contemporary nature writers, explores social-ecological issues across different National Parks. Publishing this work in 2016, she grounds her writing with a combination of natural history, personal memoir, and reflections on a politically polarized America.
5. The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World, co-edited by Lauret Savoy and Alison Hawthorne Deming
This 2011 anthology centers the narratives of writers of color, amplifying stories that blend together discussions of cultural identity and the environment. It includes works by Jamaica Kincaid, Yusef Komunyakaa, Camille Dungy, David Mas Masumoto, Ofelia Zepeda, and many other writers.
6. In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World by Lauren Oakes
This book recently came out last year and the author received her PhD from Stanford. Lauren Oakes shares the story of yellow-cedar trees in Alaska that are dying due to climate change and the communities of people that rely on these trees.
7. Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner
In her 2017 collection of poetry, Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner bears witness to how climate change, racism, colonialism, and nuclear testing have affected the Marshall Islands. She weaves together her lived experiences with her family’s history, creating a language of resistance and resilience.
8. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert.
Kolbert, a writer for the New Yorker, received the Pulitzer Prize for this book in 2015. Kolbert tells the story of alarming biodiversity loss, showing that people are causing a mass extinction through climate change and habitat destruction. She translates the research that scientists are trying to do understand and mitigate these losses into a compelling and accessible narrative.
9. Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver
Like most of Oliver’s work, this 2004 collection of poetry seeks solace in the natural world. Oliver, who passed away in early 2019, was one of the most widely read contemporary nature poets.
10. Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Hidden Wars of the American West by Rebecca Solnit
Solnit juxtaposes historic violence and dispossession against Native Americans in Yosemite National Park with anti-nuclear activism at the Nevada Test Site. She integrates historical analysis, journalism, and personal narratives.
By Katherine Nolan
I woke up the Saturday of April 27th feeling groggy, sick, and lethargic. The hecticness and sleep deprivation of week 3 had taken its physical toll on me; that past friday night had I found myself going to bed at 6:30 PM only to reemerge on Saturday at 11:30 AM. I wasn’t sure I would feel up to going to Earthtones, but despite my lethargy I biked across campus to the O’Donahue Family Stanford Farm. I didn’t regret it.
At Earthtones I made saw beautiful and moving student artwork, listened to fantastic music, flower crowns, tea and salves with friends, ate tasty snacks from Rendezvous Cafe (a food-justice centered caterer), picked radishes from the farm to donate to a local homeless shelter, and met with other students who care deeply about centering people of color and their connection to the environment, environmental justice, and healing. Listening to Bay Area herbalist Camille-Lillian talk about the long history of natural medicine, I became aware of how this event--which had brought me outside to bask in the sunshine, get my hands dirty in the rows of radishes, laugh with old and new friends, and reflect on my own relationship to the outdoors--was healing me.
I thought I would bike home feeling just as groggy and stuck as I had when I first arrived, but instead I felt inspired to recenter environmental justice and the outdoors in my own life, and appreciate the many people on campus who are working toward a more just and sustainable world.
Welcome to our blog!
This is a forum for students to share their writing on intersectional environmental topics, curated by Students for a Sustainable Stanford. Writers of all backgrounds, abilities, and perspectives are welcome.