Corey Lewis Reviews The Bioregional Imagination: Literature, Ecology, and Place, Edited by Tom Lynch, Cheryll Glotfelty, and Karla Armbruster
As a bioregionalist living in northern California, and as a professor of environmental literature and writing, I expected (or was prepared to demand) great things from this collection. Fortunately, my expectations were soundly met. In their introduction to The Bioregional Imagination: Literature, Ecology, and Place, for example, the editors elegantly illustrate the wide variety of practices occurring in communities all over the world that are bioregional in nature, while providing a succinct and lucid history of how the bioregional philosophy and movement has evolved. Editors Tom Lynch, Cheryll Glotfelty, and Karla Armbruster note that early bioregionalists’ “motivation was to address matters of pressing environmental concern through a politics derived from a local sense of place, an approach they felt would effectively complement efforts on the national and international levels.” Following this same principle The Bioregional Imagination collects, from all over the map, a variety of local projects and perspectives, assembling them into a seamless whole, demonstrating that despite their variety they make up a unified practice following the same principles of sustainability.
The collection includes classics of bioregional thought, such as the “Where are you at?” quiz as well as an alternative version, “How you live?” that was revised to reflect more recent and urban bioregional perspectives. Important bioregional voices like David Robertson and Robert Thayer, and familiar places like the Columbia River Basin have also been included, providing a solid foundation in bioregional history and thought. Representative bioregional projects from around the United States range from John Lane’s “Still under the Influence: The Bioregional Origins of the Hub City Writers Project,” to Rinda West’s “Representing Chicago Wilderness,” and Kent Ryden’s “The Nature of Region: Russell Banks, New England, and New York.” This part of the anthology provides helpful introductory information on bioregionalism and an excellent sampling of important bioregional projects.
Then the book branches out, taking readers all the way to the outback of Australia, with Libby Robin’s “Seasons and Nomads: Reflections on Bioregionalism in Australia,” in which Robin demonstrates that in the Australian context a nomadic or migratory lifestyle may be much more sustainable than the traditional bioregional approach of localized “in-dwelling.” Other international perspectives include Serenella Iovino’s “Restoring the Imagination of Place: Narrative Reinhabitation and the Po Valley.” Now one of Europe’s most polluted fluvial areas, the Po Valley’s future depends in many ways, Iovino argues, on our ability “to imagine with a place,” rather than using our imagination as an act that is disconnected from it. Also included are the climate change concerns of bioregionalists in Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, and Canada’s High Arctic. Pavel Cenkl explores the work of both native and nonnative communities in this region in his essay “Reading Climate Change and Work in the Circumpolar North.” I found such breadth of coverage, so many varied international perspectives on bioregionalism, to be one of the many key strengths of the collection.
Bioregional approaches to teaching can also be found here, from Laurie Ricou’s demonstration of outdoor, field-based education in “Out of the Field Guide: Teaching Habitat Studies” to Laird Christensen’s discussion of online, graduate-level distance education in “Teaching Bioregional Perception—at a Distance.” And the important role environmental artists and authors have played in the movement is the focus of such essays as David Landis Barnhill’s “Critical Utopianism and Bioregional Ecocriticism” and Daniel Gustav Anderson’s “Critical Bioregionalist Method in Dune.” Bioregional readings of literature, such as “Figures of Life: Beverley Farmer’s The Seal Woman as an Australian Bioregional Novel,” or Heather Kerr’s “Melancholy Botany: Charlotte Smith’s Bioregional Poetic Imaginary” round out the anthology. A useful annotated list of bioregional books concludes the collection, summarizing 18 of the most well-known texts in the field.
This breadth of coverage, as well as the in-depth discussion of so many different types of bioregional projects, provides much to recommend The Bioregional Imagination to readers, students, scholars and teachers alike. I am confident we will see this collection grow to become a staple in our field, much like Glotfelty’s 1996 collection The Ecocriticism Reader. For anyone working in ecocriticism, environmental writing, or bioregional sustainability, it promises to be of much value, reaching classic status in the bioregional literature canon.