Guest Blog: The Role of Writers as a Voice for the Environment

by angelazbornik | September 29, 2020 | Meet the Author, Nature & Wildlife

Our thought-provoking guest blog today is from Anne Coray, author of the upcoming CliFi / Romance,
Lost Mountain.

Literature as a Voice for Protection: How Reading Moves Us Toward Advocacy

Those of us who write eco-literature have certainly given thought to the impact our words have on readers. While I believe the best of such work isn’t written with advocacy first in mind, but is born instead of some inner struggle, at some point authors can’t help but wonder:  does my writing do any good? Will it help to change attitudes and perspectives?

In a recent issue of ISLE, the journal of Interdisciplinary Studies for Literature and the Environment, Ursula McTaggart takes up these questions in her essay Literature That Prompts Action: Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang.  It had been years since I’d read Abbey’s classic, and I needed McTaggart to remind me of what exactly those pages contain. Apparently Abbey offers detailed instructions on how to dismantle construction equipment and how to drive a bulldozer off a cliff. It seems the book encourages acts of eco-terrorism, although I believe Abbey may have written it merely for entertainment purposes.

Make no mistake:  I would never want my writing to incite violence. But I do hope that my forthcoming novel Lost Mountain—a love story centered on a huge open-pit mining operation in Southwest Alaska—will do two things. One is to make people think about their personal relationships and to consider the consequences of speaking—or not speaking—for causes. My other hope is to raise awareness.

Few novels address the subject of mining, although Ann Pancake’s Strange As This Weather Has Been is a worthy exception. The setting is West Virginia, and the author explores the devastating effects of mountaintop removal to access coal. While writing Lost Mountain I gained a comprehensive understanding of the tremendous environmental impact of open-pit mineral extraction, and I hope that my readers will too.

I asked Nancy Lord what she would like readers to come away with from her novel pH (WestWinds/West Margin Press, 2017), which focuses on ocean acidification. She said, “My goal was to unite entertainment with edification. So much had already been written about ocean warming and acidification that even I was suffering from bad-news fatigue, but a story with interesting characters and a bit of mystery seemed like it might entice readers to engage with the work of science.”

I once heard the late playwright Edward Albee speak at a theatre conference. “We write,” he said, “because we want to change the world. It doesn’t do any good of course, but we still try.” Humor aside, I still believe in the persuasive power of literature. It may not always be direct—I read this book and now I’m joining an advocacy group!—but slow is okay too. My own awareness of ecological issues is born of many years of reading and thinking. A change in consciousness is often subtle, and simply takes time.  

–Anne Coray

Anne Coray is a writer and poet, authoring three poetry collections and coediting an anthology. Her work has appeared in the Southern ReviewNorth American Review, and in several anthologies. She has been nominated five times for the Pushcart prize and received fellowships from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the Rasmuson Foundation. Anne divides her time between remote Lake Clark and Homer in Alaska.