Monday, January 24, 2011

On belief and nature writing: a guest post by Charles Wohlforth

Tomorrow night, Tuesday, Jan. 25 at 7 pm, we’re excited to present our first CROSSCURRENTS event: an onstage discussion, “Environmental Writing and Activism,” with Nancy Lord, Marybeth Holleman, and Charles Wohlforth, at Out North Theater. Our thanks to Cook Inletkeeper, the Alaska Center for the Environment, and the Prince William Sound Science Center for co-sponsoring this event. UAA Bookstore will handle book sales for the signing that follows. Here, moderator Charles Wohlforth offers a preview of the intriguing questions the session will address. Help us spread the word about this exciting event!

Writing about Alaska presents many of the same challenges as writing about religion or faith. For those who seek to persuade readers to adopt their point of view about conservation, negotiating that challenge is an essential problem. I'm looking forward to my on-stage interview January 25 with two of Alaska's best writers, Nancy Lord and Marybeth Holleman, to talk about how they address the opportunities and challenges of their favorite subject. The program begins at 7 p.m. at Out North Theater, 3800 DeBarr Road.

Like spirituality, the love of Alaska offers a promising subject for a writer: vast, complex, enigmatic and intrinsically interesting to most of us. The experience of the outdoors can be intensely personal, and so creates an opportunity for intimacy with a reader. On the other hand, nothing can provoke eye-rolling more readily than bad nature writing or overwrought spiritual expressions. Writing that is too personal and not connected sufficiently to the objective experience of readers can easily be passed off as pretty but irrelevant.

Holleman and Lord's recent books take radically different approaches to this problem. At our forum, Lord will read briefly from Early Warming and Holleman from The Heart of the Sound, so you'll have a chance to hear that difference for yourself.

Being relevant matters when we're concerned about issues like climate change and oil pollution, as in these books. We need to inspire readers, connect with them on a deep level, and provoke them to act in the political realm. Here is where Alaska stops being a religion. Religious truths command only those who adhere to a shared belief system. In order to make major social changes in attitude toward the environment, writers must reach across belief systems to find a shared obligation to the Earth.

At the intersection of the personal and the political, these Alaskan writers have taken on the most important and most difficult task facing society. In this common space where our actions affect every living thing, we're groping for magic words that will motivate our friends, neighbors and adversaries to take responsibility individually and collectively for a world in decline.

Writers are not heroes. Most of us write because we feel, in some way, compelled to do so. But writers are worth listening to, because the act of translating the world to the page requires a lot of thought and emotional exploration. I'm looking forward to learning how Lord and Holleman addressed that process on the 25th.

If you have a question or question you'd like addressed by the authors at Tuesday's Crosscurrents event, please leave it below. We'll gather audience questions here and at the gathering to be addressed by the authors.

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