Kathleen Jamie’s new book Surfacing landed in my mailbox last week, and I can’t wait to read it. Kathleen is a Scottish poet and essayist, and Surfacing is her third collection – following Findings and Sightlines – of what you’d probably call nature writing, although that term does little justice to her delightful touch.
I was interested to read an interview with Kathleen in the Guardian last week, which dealt with the question of whether contemporary nature writing is overly dominated by white men. (Spoiler – it is.)
That’s not to say that there aren’t some wonderful men out there, producing great work – there are, and you’ve probably read at least some of them. (Hi, Robert MacFarlane…) But the natural world is too beautiful for us to only read about it through that one narrow lens.
Unfortunately, what the Guardian piece didn’t do was highlight any of the alternatives, of which there are many. So I thought I’d take sometime to pull together a non-exhaustive list of writers, books, essays and sites that you might like to explore if this subject interests you. It really is just a way of dipping your toe in the water – there’s so much out there and if you’re anything like me you’ll discover that following one interesting link leads you to a dozen more.
Have fun getting lost in nature! And feel free to leave a comment below with your own recommendations.
Where to start?
If you’re on Twitter, a good place to start would be this thread of recommendations. Blue Kirkhope put out a call for women who tweet about nature and landscapes, and the response was overwhelming. It ranged from writers to scientists, farmers to school students, and they’re all worth a follow.
Elsewhere, The Willowherb Review is a newish platform for emerging and established writers of colour, with a focus on place, nature and environment. It was established by British-Canadian-Taiwanese writer Jessica J. Lee, whose non-fiction book about Taiwan, Two Trees Make a Forest, is released next month.
The Nan Shepherd Prize (named after the wonderful Scottish writer whose book The Living Mountain is one of my absolute faves) is a new prize from Canongate Books for writers from underrepresented voices. The shortlist has just been announced, and the winner will be announced in November, but the website also has heaps of great advice for writers who didn’t enter this time round.
Keep an eye on the UK Forestry Commission’s blog for updates from their two brilliant writers in residence, Zakiya McKenzie and Tiffany Francis.
Outside published a list of 25 essential women writing about the wild.
Another great essay from Outside is Rahawa Haile’s account of walking the Appalachian Trail as an African American woman.
Elizabeth Rush wrote for LitHub about searching for women’s voices in Antarctica.
I really enjoyed this piece by Emily Wortman-Wunder at Adventure Journal – What the West looks like when women are telling the stories.
This is a really important piece at Writers Bloc by Hannah Donnelly, about decolonising country in Australian literature, with a particular focus on Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things.
Staying in Australia, Ellen van Neerven’s The Country is Like a Body, at Right Now, and Evelyn Araluen’s Snugglepot and Cuddlepie in the Ghost Gum, at Sydney Review of Books, are both essential reading.
Samantha Walton published this excellent history of black and Asian nature writing.
And finally, the LA Review of Books published this important essay by Catherine Buni, titled Towards a Wider View of ‘Nature Writing’.
Journals, Blogs and Websites
Vela Magazine hasn’t published anything new for a while, but their archive remains online, and their Placed series consists entirely of essays by women about place. They also compiled this helpful list of seven non-fiction writers on the natural world.
Caught by the River publishes work by both men and women, but it’s especially notable as the platform where writers like Amy Liptrot and Kerri ní Dochartaigh first found an audience for their beautiful nature writing.
The Island Review also publishes a wide variety of work, all on the theme of islands. Highlights for me have included Nancy Forde writing about Greenland, Marg Greenwood looking for Barnacle Geese on Islay, and Sally Huband on Foula’s birds.
Talking of birds, Mya-Rose Craig is a young ornithologist and her blog – Bird Girl UK – is fabulous.
Writers and Books
If all those essays have whetted your appetite for women’s nature writing, here are some suggestions for other writers and books that you might like to investigate.
Staying with birds, Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear is fabulous.
Amanda Thomson’s A Scots Dictionary of Nature celebrates the rich, expressive language that Scots use to describe their natural environment.
Jini Reddy, author of Wild Times, has a new book out in April 2020. Wanderland is published by Bloomsbury and fuses nature writing and memoir.
Amy Liptrot, mentioned above, won the 2016 Wainwright Prize for her memoir The Outrun.
Often considered the most important environmental book of the 20th Century, head back to where it all began with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
Melissa Harrison recently wrote this lovely essay on trees for the New Statesman. Her non-fiction book Rain was longlisted for The Wainwright Prize.
Tracy Ross is an award-winning journalist who has written for publications including Outside and Backpacker. Her book-length memoir The Source of All Things expanded on a 2007 essay that won a National Magazine Award in the US.
Olivia Laing‘s most recent publication is the 2018 novel Crudo, but if you enjoy nature writing track down a copy of her earlier non-fiction book To The River.
I first stumbled across Emma Mitchell on Twitter. Her book The Wild Remedy is a diary of nature walks – photos, illustration and words – detailing how being outdoors helps alleviate her depression.
Rebecca Solnit‘s Wanderlust: A History of Walking, and A Field Guide to Getting Lost are both beautiful books, which you should buy or borrow immediately if you haven’t already.
The same applies to Louise Erdrich’s Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country.
The Australian writer Ashley Hay is best known as a novelist, but she has also written extensively about plants and the outdoors. Try her non-fiction book Gum: The Story of Eucalypts and Their Champions, or this beautiful essay – Where the Wild Things Are – in the Griffith Review.
I need to reiterate again that this list is far from definitive. I know I will have missed off many important people and important texts. But it’s a start, if this is a subject that interests you, and I hope that if you have other suggestions and recommendations you’ll feel welcome to leave them in the comments below, or tag me on social media.
I’ve already had a couple of great suggestions via Twitter and Facebook – Rachel Lichtenstein’s Estuary: Out from London to the Sea and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.