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The Future of Environmental Essay: A Discourse
by Alison Hawthorne Deming, David Gessner, David Rothenberg, and Lauret Savoy


The Future of Environmental Essay panelists Alison Deming and David RothenbergEditor's Note: In February 2008, Terrain.org editor Simmons Buntin facilitated a panel titled “The Future of Environmental Essay” at the conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs in New York City. The panel featured noted environmental essayists and editors Alison Hawthorne Deming, David Gessner, David Rothenberg, and Lauret Savoy. This article includes the full text, and brief audio excerpts, of the panelists’ important and entertaining discourse.

Select an author below to read the text of the presentation and listen to an audio excerpt:

Alison Hawthorne DemingAlison Hawthorne Deming
Let me start by offering a variation on our panel’s title: the future is an environmental essay.  We don’t know the magnitude of what’ve done, or what it means for those who will follow, or which actions are best to stop ourselves from bleeding the Earth of its vitality and turning it into a laboratory for the study of human arrogance and folly.
David GessnerDavid Gessner
Of course I wasn’t really sick of the natural world, just of the way some writers chose to portray it.  I was sick of the hushed voice, sick of the saintliness, sick of the easy notions of the perfectibility of man, sick of the apocalyptic robes, sick of the scolding.  But most of all I was sick of the certainty that seemed to ooze out of the words.
David RothenbergDavid Rothenberg
Nature writing has always lamented the passage of a bygone age, a yearning for a better past when we were all much closer to the world around us. Are things any different now that such a threat seems greater and more total, with massive climate change, and even Republicans starting to agree that something should be done about global warming?

Lauret SavoyLauret Savoy
Imagine “environment” broadly—not just as surroundings; not just as the air, water, land on which we depend, or that we pollute; not just as global warming—but as sets of circumstances, conditions, and contexts in which we live and die—in which each of us is intimately part.  This definition falls short without those experiences of place that are exiled or degraded or toxic or alien or urban or indentured.


Alison Hawthorne Deming is the author of three books of nonfiction — Writing the Sacred into the Real, The Edges of the Civilized World, and Temporary Homelands — and the author of three books of poetry: Genius Loci, The Monarchs: A Poem Sequence, and Science and Other Poems, winner of the Academy of American Poet’s Walt Whitman Award. Alison is a professor of creative writing at the University of Arizona.

David Gessner is assistant professor of creative nonfiction at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he also edits the literary journal of place, Ecotone. He is the author of six books of literary nonfiction, including Sick of Nature, Return of the Osprey, and Soaring with Fidel. David’s essay, “Learning to Surf,” which appeared in Orion magazine, won the John Burroughs Award for Best Nature Essay of 2006.

David Rothenberg's latest book, Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution, was published by Bloomsbury in 2011. His latest CDs are Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast and You Can't Get There From Here. His next book, Bug Music, will appear in 2013. Catch up with him at www.DavidRothenberg.net.

Lauret Savoy writes across threads of cultural identity to explore their shaping by relationship with, and dislocation from, the land. She is a woman of mixed African-American, Euro-American, and Native-American heritage, and is a photographer and professor of geology and environmental studies at Mount Holyoke College.  Lauret edited The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World and Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology; and co-authored Living with the Changing California Coast.

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The Future of Environmental Essay panelists Simmons Buntin, David Gessner, and Lauret Savoy

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