Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World by Kathryn Aalto (from Timber Press; available June 23, 2020)
I was lucky to grow up in a time and place that allowed little kids to roam. From the time I was five and "old enough" to walk to Kindergarten by myself, my parents considered me old enough to wander my neighborhood by myself. And I did. My memories of childhood summers in Nebraska are a series of explorations, alone or with a best friend, of back yards, the enormous neighborhood park, and, once we got bikes, nearby farms, woods, and creeks. I could spend a whole day alone with a book in the woods. Or spend several days in a row with a friend playing on the Platte River. We were ten.
Despite my early adventures, I didn't grow up to be a rugged outdoor enthusiast. These days, my idea of camping is a cabin at a National Park. But those childhood wanderings taught me a love for the natural world and instilled a yearning for exploration, often solitary. Kathryn Aalto's new book, Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World, appeals to both parts of my character.
Aalto set out to rebalance the perception that nature writing is entirely the realm of white male authors. Writing Wild honors women writers whose work has helped readers connect to the natural world from the Romantic poets to today. The book is a collection of Aalto's biographical sketches of 25 influential women writers, drawing on excerpts of their work; select bibliographies; notes on other women poets and prose authors; and ancillary material, all beautifully illustrated by Gisela Goppel.
The book is not an anthology of nature writing; it is an introduction to women nature writers. A few are probably familiar, like Annie Dillard or poet Mary Oliver. Others are new to me and likely new to most readers. The book, of course, does not include every woman who has written about nature. As Aalto described:
Think of these pages as a glance backwards and a look forward, as well as a celebration of women who bring a different dimension to nature writing, rather than a compendium of every woman who ever wrote about the natural world.
Following each five- to seven-page biography, Aalto inserts either the featured author's bibliography or information about three related authors. For example, after the opening essay on Dorothy Wordsworth, Aalto includes a paragraph each on three other women writers under "More About Mountains": Dorothy Pilley, Helen Mort, and Cheryl Strayed. After the essay on Amy Liptrot, she offers three suggestions for "More Recovery Narratives": Sue Hubbell, Olivia Laing, and Jessica Lee.
You can see from these examples that Aalto broadly defines "nature writing." She includes writers of natural history, environmental philosophy, country life, scientific writing, gardening, poetry, memoir, fiction, and meditation. The writing of the women featured spans more than 200 years and many genres, not all easily categorized.
Read and be inspired. I was.
The 25 women featured in Katheryn Aalto's Writing Wild are:
Susan Fenimore Cooper
Leslie Marmon Silko
Robin Wall Kimmerer
Camille T. Dungy