My TBR (To Be Read) stack grows every day, and now it includes many writers who are Black, Brown, and Indigenous. I confess most of these writers are new to me. As I read their work, I’m aware I’ve been missing out on a great deal of wisdom and beauty. You can read here and here about some of the environmental authors and activists I’ve been learning about.
This week, my friend, writer Ana Maria Spagna, introduced me to poet and essayist, Camille T. Dungy. A professor in the Department of English at Colorado State University, Dungy’s recent essay in The Georgia Review, “Is All Writing Environmental Writing?” makes a good case in answer to the title question. She writes:
“We are in the midst of the planet’s sixth great extinction, in a time where we are seeing the direct effects of radical global climate change via more frequent and ferocious storms, hotter drier years accompanied by more devastating wildfires, snow where there didn’t used to be snow, and less snow where permafrost used to be a given. Yet some people prefer to maintain categories for what counts as environmental writing and what is historical writing or social criticism or biography and so on. I can’t compartmentalize my attentions.”
I’m discovering I can’t compartmentalize my attentions, either, as I write about the climate crisis and its effects on the Salish Sea, environmental justice, and health. Dungy goes on in her essay:
“What we decide matters in literature is connected to what we decide will matter for our history, for our pedagogy, for our culture. What we do and do not value in our art reveals what we do and do not value in our times. What we leave off the page often speaks as loudly as what we include.
When we write about our lives, we ought to do so with an awareness of the other lives we encounter as we move through the world. I choose to honor these lives with attention and compassion.”
I also honor the other lives I’m encountering as I work to be anti-racist. One way is by reading their work and lifting up their voices. Camille Dungy’s voice is one of the many I’m listening to, and you can as well. Here she reads three poems in celebration of Earth Day and National Poetry Month: “How she keeps faith,” originally published in Smith Blue ; “Characteristics of Life” originally published in Trophic Cascade ; and “How great the gardens when they thrive,” originally published in Trophic Cascade .
I intend to read more of Dungy’s writing, including the anthology she edited, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry.
Professor Dungy also generated a list of book recommendations that will make my TBR stack grow.
To help me stay accountable, I take the following pledge, created by Leah Thomas.
The Intersectional Environmental Pledge
- I will stand in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and POC communities and the planet.
- I will not ignore the intersections of environmentalism and social justice.
- I will use my privilege to advocate for Black and Brown lives in spaces where this message is often silenced.
- I will proactively do the work to learn about environmental and social injustices Black, Indigenous, and POC communities face without minimizing them.
- I will respect the boundaries of Black, Indigenous, and POC friends and activists, and not demand they perform emotional labor or do the work for me.
- I will share my learning with other environmentalists in the community.
- I will amplify the messages of Black, Indigenous, and POC activists and environmental leaders.
- I will not remain silent during pivotal political and cultural moments that impact Black, Indigenous, and POC communities.
Will you join me?