Tom Bromley discusses new book Gifts of Gravity and Light
The art of writing about nature is undergoing an exciting and rewarding renaissance.
This week sees the publication of Gifts of Gravity and Light, billed as a âNature Almanac for the 21st Centuryâ.
With a preface by Bernardine Evaristo, the book takes the reader on a journey through the seasons, from spring in East London to the sunny days of a Jamaican childhood, from sea otters in summer to the freezing calm of winter. in the Cairngorms. It’s an exciting and fresh collection of voices, including Jackie Kay, Jay Griffiths and Testament.
Last week I spent a fascinating hour in the company of the two editors of the book, Anita Roy and Pippa Marland, whose own pieces anchored the collection perfectly around the spring and fall equinoxes.
Their passion for the subject of nature writing was clear and their understanding of how it has changed was astute.
Current discussions of what constitutes nature writing began a decade ago. The argument then was whether there was a place for politics or whether writing about nature should be the prerogative of personal and private experience.
“I think those talks are still there,” Pippa explained, “but there has been this wonderful relaxation and expansion of the genre over the past couple of years.”
The urgency of the climate change situation has become harder and harder for nature writers to ignore: one need only look at Sir David Attenborough’s changing shows in recent years to realize it.
Scientists now describe the era we live in as the Anthropocene, the first time in world history that human activity itself is changing the planet’s climate. Considering this role affecting nature, it would be strange if nature’s writing did not challenge our own behaviors.
At the same time, writing about nature has also flourished thanks to the growing number of new voices drawn to the genre.
Pippa and Anita spoke of the “monoculture” of 20th century nature writing that has become the preserve of the idle white man.
Over the past decade, this orthodoxy has been overturned by a growing âbibliodiversityâ of female practitioners primarily, and more recently a growing number of nature writers from BAME.
Anita described the importance of groundbreaking books such as I Belong Here by Anita Sethi and The Grassling by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett.
Platforms like Willowherb Review, a thriving digital space for BAME nature writers, have also been crucial.
As Anita says, “This is a very large and diverse place, this thing called writing of nature, and there is room for everyone.”
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