Over the past few years I have made it a goal to seek out nature writing by BIPOC authors. When I entered a public university studying Environmental Science 20 years ago, I was introduced to the field through the writings of the great American naturalists like John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, John James Audubon, and later Rachel Carson. I am not interested in ignoring these writings or removing my appreciation for their work and thoughts of their times. But…. the year is 2022. Our environmental concerns are not the same now that they were 200 years ago or even 60 years ago. Culturally we are continuing to move beyond the limited scope that says only the privileged white man is worthy of holding the megaphone. Further, I think the questions that need asking today cannot even be answered by the transcendentalists.
What does the Earth ask of us? What are the connections between culture and conscience? How does collective memory shape the nature-based experiences of marginalized peoples? What value does the non-human living world hold and who speaks for these beings?
Why is there so little nature writing by people of color?
And: what exactly is “nature writing” anyway? This last question is particularly important because my own ideas of this have been challenged as I have read through the books below.
I am not simply following a fad, but rather seeking to hear from the naturalists of our time. Now. What voices should we be listening to in order to move us forward as we also look back and live in the present day? What I have found are a number of writers who have so much insight, beauty, depth, and courage to share with us today. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Lauret Savory, J. Drew Lanham, to name a few. My hope is to point you in the direction of others that I think are worth engaging with. I continue to search for more and am happy to hear if you have suggestions for me!
Note that there are many BIPOC environmental activist groups and websites out there that I do not feel is necessary for me to compile here. However, I do want to share one site that I have appreciated for the value of continued reading. There are multiple journals, books, videos and more from The Center from Humans and Nature that highlight a diverse range of voices and contributors. I think you will enjoy their content and the movement!
I have read all of the above and enjoyed each for different reasons. Books are wonderful like that — they can strike you in different ways depending on the season of life you are in when you read them.
Note that What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want to Be? is from The Center from Humans and Nature and includes a range of voices, not exclusively BIPOC. I particularly love the format of this book which includes poetry, essays and transcribed interviews.
Colors of Nature is an excellent compilation of essays by a variety of authors, edited by Lauret Savoy, who also wrote Trace. Both Trace and The Home Place by J. Drew Lanham are essential for understanding why the stories and experiences of black persons with nature & land contain so much more value today than the writings of the white male colonists from centuries ago. These are books to read carefully.
Robin Wall Kimmerer is probably my favorite author in this field today. Her books Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering Moss have been so impactful. I am particularly drawn to the intersection of science and indigenous wisdom. She has a lot of essays and other material at The Center from Humans and Nature — if you are looking for a great journal article to get the feel of her writing, I recommend: Returning the Gift (2014).
As Long As Grass Grows is essential reading for understanding the modern indigenous-led activist movements. This book was wonderful for sending me down a bunch of rabbit holes to read and discover more!
The following books are on my to-read list. I just picked up The Unlikely Thru-Hiker from my library. I cannot express enough how much I have been enjoying reading books in this genre. I hope you do as well!
**UPDATE 1/27 — Someone recommended the following new release to me and I wanted to add it to the list.
Thanks for checking out this post!
You might also be interested in:
This content uses referral links. Please read my disclosure policy for more details.