Growing up in the Midwest, Iris Graville never imagined someday living in Washington State on Lopez Island in the Salish Sea’s San Juan Archipelago. Now, after nearly thirty years as an islander, she writes in Writer in a Life Vest about the threats to this inland sea’s lattice of beauty, wildness, fragility, and interdependence.
Iris spends a considerable number of hours on the Salish Sea, sometimes in a kayak, but primarily on the Washington State Ferries (WSF), the nation’s largest ferry system. In 2018-19, she served as WSF’s first Writer-in-Residence on the “Interisland” route, traveling among the ferry-served islands in the San Juans—Lopez, Shaw, Orcas, and San Juan. That residency supplied Iris time and space to write.
This storytelling lover of the Salish Sea offers Writer in a Life Vest, thirty-six essays that explore climate change and endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, and invite readers to ask questions. Most of the essays are in forms sometimes referred to as lyric. She also includes poetry, profiles, and conversations and correspondence—real and imagined—as well as a list of resources. Iris chose these techniques as a metaphor for the new thinking she believes is an essential response to the climate crisis we face and offers these essays as symbols of resilience, inspiration, and hope.
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Cascadia Daily News had this to say about Writer in a Life Vest:
“Writer in a Life Vest is not a sunny summer passage. Graville’s book invites readers to take a deep breath to explore below the water’s surface and to examine the impact of the 8 million people who live along the inland sea’s 4,642-mile coastline. The ferry ‘drags my fears for the Salish Sea in its wake,’ she writes.
The duality of awe-inspiring beauty and heartbreaking extinction links the inspiring essays.“
More Praise for Writer in a Life Vest
Read what reviewers have to say about Writer in a Life Vest: Essays from the Salish Sea.
“In Writer in a Life Vest, Iris Graville pulls out all the stops to immerse us in the magnificent Salish Sea—and the crises of our time—with creativity, integrity, and grace. She jams with ukuleles, imagines conversations with Rachel Carson, writes vows of commitment, admires orcas and grieves them, and ultimately insists on hope. Equal parts wonder and urgency, Writer in a Life Vest is nature writing at its best.”
~ Ana Maria Spagna, author of Uplake: Restless Essays of Coming and Going and Reclaimers
“Heartfelt ruminations, playful humor, ecology, and humanity all intermingle in lyrical prose as unique and engaging as creatures in a tide pool. Iris Graville is so much more than a self-named ‘storytelling lover of the Salish Sea.’ This collection is an intimate investigation not from a dreamy-minded tourist, visiting journalist, or research scientist, but a writer-in-residence—by which I mean not just her brief writing residency on the Washington State Ferry system, but her decades-long residency on her island home, a writer deeply rooted in multiple dimensions of her ecosystem: above, below, and on the Salish Sea.”
~ Heather Durham, author of Wolf Tree and Going Feral
“Writing residencies take myriad forms, and leave it to intrepid Lopez Island writer Iris Graville to be the first writer-in-residence on the Washington State Ferries. Her linked essays are as varied in shape as the San Juan Islands she cruised past onboard the MV Tillikum for a year. Lists, songs, vows, imagined conversations, and other innovative forms are woven together by Graville’s fierce love for the Salish Sea and all its inhabitants. This timely collection offers sobering facts and grounds for hope in equal measure, underscored by a sense of urgency—”because what we do—or don’t do—now will be an inheritance for all time.” Like the ferry, these essays leave a powerful wake.”
~ Holly J. Hughes, author of Hold Fast and Passings, winner of an American Book Award
“Where does the energy in nature writing lie? In experimental form and technique, in new stories well told, in honest accounts of what it is to be a conscious and conscientious dweller on beautiful planet Earth. This book. Whether it be a postcard from orcas, an imagined conversation with Greta Thunberg, or nine ways to write from a ferry, Graville will capture your imagination and your beating heart. Along with other compelling voices today, she is asking us to see the world anew, thus seeing solutions and hope anew. I love this book!”
~ Laura Pritchett, PEN USA Award winner; Director of the MFA in Nature Writing, Western Colorado University
“Part personal reflection, part insightful commentary, all beautifully written … Graville’s essays foster a sense of place filled with wonder and hope—key ingredients for taking better care of the Salish Sea and all of us who depend on it.”
~ Joseph K. Gaydos, Co-Author of The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest
“Witty, creative, insightful, and evocative, Writer in a Life Vest is passionate paean to the Salish Sea, ferry riding, and the creatures and people that inhabit this beautiful body of water. As the state’s first writer-in-residence on a ferry, Iris Graville opens our eyes and hearts to the importance of caring for, paying attention to, and protecting the places we love.”
~David B. Williams, author of Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Soun
“The Salish Sea comes alive in this inspired collection of essays written by Iris Graville, who takes us on her journey through the San Juan Islands. Creatively woven together, we learn from these essays about the petition for a name change for the Salish Sea, and we discover the plight and the profound beauty of the Southern Resident Orcas. Most importantly, through Graville’s poetry and narrative rhythm, we hear the alarm bell for each of us to take immediate action in today’s climate crisis”.
~ Kip Robinson Greenthal, author of Shoal Water
“When a landscape makes a truth-claim on a human, blessed is s/he who hears, and heeds, it. In Iris Graville, the Salish Sea found a ‘good and faithful servant’ who devoted her time and talent to becoming the eyes, ears, and voice of the sea and its inhabitants. Through her imagination and writing skills, Graville succeeds in sharing both information and inspiration while bravely bearing witness on behalf of a beloved landscape. And we readers are the richer, and wiser, for it. “
~ Gail Collins-Ranadive, author of Dinosaur Dreaming: Our Climate Moment
“Mariners know the importance of safety at sea. We equip our vessels with emergency gear and watch our ship’s instruments for hazards to navigation. In Writer in a Life Vest, Iris Gravillealerts us to the dangers that threaten the safety of the sea itself. Every essay deepens our knowledge and love of these inland waters. Her words sound out a Mayday call to immediately begin a rescue of the Salish Sea.”
~ Migael Scherer, author A Cruising Guide to Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands and Sailing to Simplicity: Life Lessons Learned at Sea
“Graville writes through prose and poetry specifically of the Southern Resident orcas of the Salish Sea of Washington and British Columbia, but more generally of the climate crisis and how our actions today will affect all beings well into the future. Writer in a Life Vest is filled with wonder, tolerance, and sometimes brutal honesty, and peopled with the likes of Sylvia Earl, Greta Thunberg, and Rachel Carson. It stands as an ode on a ferry; a love song for the Salish Sea and all its inhabitants; and a carefully researched, heartfelt, deftly-written, and convincing plea to change what we can while we can.”
~ Gene Helfman, author of Beyond the Human Realm
“Iris Graville’s collection of personal essays is imbued with the very rhythm of the Salish Sea itself. If you’ve ever desired to be on the waters of the San Juan Archipelago, her words will take you there with deep melodic breaths of salty air. And once you’ve made this journey with her, you can’t help but be inspired to share in the stewardship of this very special place – its history, its humans, and its natural wonder.”
~ Liz Smith, producer of PBS “Changing Seas” series
“Writer in a Life Vest is a unique and utterly enchanting look at life in Washington state’s San Juan Islands—a love letter to a specific area from a writer who clearly has a deep sense of place for her chosen home. A pleasure to read and hard to put down.”
~ Deborah Giles, PhD, Science and Research Director, Wild Orca