In anticipation of author Kathleen Dean Moore and musician Libby Roderick’s appearance tonight in Anchorage, we’re reposting this interview from our archives. Kathleen Dean Moore is best known for her books of nature-focused essays–Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water, winner of the 1995 Pacific Northwest Book Award; Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World, recipient of the 1999 Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award; The Pine Island Paradox, winner of the 2004 Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction; and Wild Comfort, finalist for the same award; and Great Tide Rising (Counterpoint 2016). Her latest book is a novel, her debut book of fiction, called Piano Tide (Counterpoint 2017). Moore writes from a small cabin on Chicagof Island in Southeast Alaska.
Tonight’s Reading & Craft Talk Series event takes place at 7 pm, 49th State Brewing Co., Anchorage (717 W. 3rd Ave). Doors at 6:30 pm. Free for members, suggested $5 for nonmembers. Facebook event.
|This post was originally published May 6, 2013.|
|Kathleen Dean Moore is an essayist, philosopher, and environmental advocate, the author of Wild Comfort, Pine Island Paradox, Riverwalking, Holdfast, and other award-winning books. Co-editor of books about Rachel Carson and the Apache philosopher Viola Cordova, Moore’s work has appeared in New York Times Magazine, Audubon, Discover, The Sun, Utne Reader, Conservation Biology, and Orion, where she serves on the Board of Directors. Moore keynoted the North Words Writers Symposium, which began May 29, 2013 in Skagway.
You’re co-editor with Michael P. Nelson of Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a People in Peril. The Chicago Examiner stated, “This is one of the first anthologies to combine the appeal of moral duty; conscience choice in relationship to the environment, in combination with the argument for basic survival.” Has the book brought the kind of attention you expected?
In Moral Ground, we published calls to action on climate change from eighty-three of the world’s moral leaders, people like Desmond Tutu, Wangari Maathai, Oscar Kawagley, and the Dalai Lama. The response has been amazing. We never expected that people would buy this book by the box-load to give to their employees, or their politicians, or the CEOs of major banks. We never expected that it would be the kind of book that families would read aloud or that activists would read late into the night. We never expected that even now — three years from publication — Michael and I wouldn’t be able keep up with invitations to speak about the ideas. It thrills us that, as people are starting to understand that climate change is a moral issue, we are able to put in their hands a book that explains the connection between climate change and duties of compassion, justice, respect for human rights, and many more.
How can we make a difference as writers?
This is a really tough one. I agonize over this. I keep coming back to the old mantra — audience and purpose, audience and purpose. How can we reach the indifferent, the hostile, the frightened, the busy well-meaning? How can we call true believers to actions that match their beliefs? And if the overriding purpose is to help nudge the “Great Turning” toward truly sustainable and just life-ways, how do we begin?
There are many answers: Some writers are giving up writing and going to direct action, organizing the beautiful “creative disruptions” the world needs. Some are writing narratives of change. Some are moving away from print to video or music. Some are already writing the elegies or the dystopian-future novels. Some are simply witnessing — calling attention to the glorious lives that we recklessly destroy. It’s not a matter of choosing the best approach. Getting ourselves out of this mess is going to take the greatest exercise of the human imagination the world has ever seen. It doesn’t matter how we do it. The moral imperative is to begin.
You are also author of several books, including Wild Comfort, which Diane Ackerman called, “a richly poetic book, and Moore a wonderful guide to the wilderness and our own wildness.” Is it more difficult to write on a more personal level? How can you express your own ideas without sounding preachy?
I don’t want to be a preacher who knows all the answers — solemn and wordy and self-satisfied. I want to be the woman in the pew who rises to her feet, weeping and shouting “hallelujah.” She may have no answers, but she believes in questions. She may have no hope, but she knows joy. She is not afraid. When she holds out her hands, pleading, she sees that they are spangled with the jewel colors of light through stained glass windows. She, not the preacher, is the poet in the sacred space.
Nature writing runs throughout your work, but you accomplish this through different threads of your career (editing, writing, teaching). Are they equally important to you, or does
one take priority over another?
This is a tough year for environmental writers, when decisions about our priorities are more urgent than ever. God knows, challenges are coming from all directions, and opportunities too. But energy is finite and our time is about up. So what is to be done? And within what institutions? I don’t know a single environmental writer who is not asking these questions.
And for me? This is the year when the “threads” of my career — writing, public speaking, university teaching — transmogrified into monsters that started eating each others’ feet. So I quit my university position, and I’m spending all my time on writing and public speaking, primarily about climate change. Nature writing informs all this work — the convictions that it’s not enough to celebrate the natural world while bulldozers and drilling rigs take it down, that we have to do what we can to prevent what I believe is a failure of reverence and a betrayal of love for the world.
On May 29 – June 1, 2013, you will be a faculty member at the North Words Writers Symposium, held in Skagway Alaska. You live in Alaska part of the year; is that what drew you to the symposium? What do you look forward to at the event?
Yes, I do live in Alaska during the summers, in a cabin where two creeks and a bear trail meet a tidal cove in Tenakee Inlet. But I was drawn to the symposium by my old friend Dan Henry, who asked me to do a keynote at the Symposium — “Just 20-30 minutes of profound, insightful, inspirational talk,” he said. “That’s all.”
“Okay,” I muttered, as profoundly and insightfully as I could.
I’m very excited about this. It will be a chance to meet all the Alaska writers whose books pile up under my bed and overflow from my shelves. These are my heroes. These are the people I want to be. And now I will get to meet them and maybe even buy them a beer.
Lynn Lovegreen writes Sweet Alaska Historicals, novels set in the Gold Rush era.