Nature inspiring novels: environmental authors visit campus

A simple stroll outside can inspire some writers to create elegant poetry and novels that connect readers with the natural world. The WSU English department will bring in two environmental writers this week as part of its Visiting Writers Series.

Visiting Writers Series Co-Director Debbie Lee said this series will emphasize how authors express their relationship with the natural world through literature and art. The English department also collaborated with WSU’s Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach (CEREO), Lee said. The English department hosts four series each year in which writers from around the country visit WSU to share their tips and tricks. At least one of the four series focuses on ecological literature.

“There are so many different people on campus working in all different disciplines,” Lee said. “We want a curriculum that allows synergy for everyone, so we work with CEREO every year to bring people together.”

To kick off the week, authors Robert Michael Pyle and Allison Cobb will share bits of their poetry and answer questions in a joint discussion Tuesday at the Museum of Art. Pyle and Cobb are both authors of environmental poetry.

Pyle, one of America’s most well-known environmental writers and naturalists, said the work he shares is always a work in progress until the moment he reaches the podium. One of the books he will read from is set in the Moscow-Pullman area.

“I don’t want to give away too much, but the book is set in the Palouse,” Pyle said. “I’ll be reading a little from ‘Where Bigfoot Walks.’”

Pyle will also read from his book “Skytime in Grey’s River-Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place,” about living intentionally and an engaging encounter he once had with a bat.

Cobb said she will share her new unpublished manuscript of poems and discuss her current project. Working for the Environmental Defense Fund, Cobb said she gets a lot of information every day about the environment and the shape it is in.

“Ecological poetry is a new and increasingly popular practice,” she said. “More and more poets are thinking about these issues.”

Cobb has been working on a poetry project for the past few years about harmful plastic in the environment called “Plastic: An Autobiography.” She said she started noticing more plastic around her, so she began collecting it.

“I walk my dog and pick up plastic every day, then I record my findings on my website,” Cobb said. “My plastic project is about using prose and picture poems as a way to think about how we can make our lives better on the planet now.”

At 3 p.m. on Thursday, Cobb will lead a walk around Reaney Park to examine the plastic litter and discuss her project more in-depth.

Everyone will also get the chance to examine nature with Pyle on a nature walk today at 3 p.m. through the Shattuck Arboretum Amphitheater at the University of Idaho. He will explain what goes through his mind as he studies the world around him.

“I tend to notice particular details, and it is these details in which I hang my poetry and fiction,” Pyle said. “Without physical details the story tends to be flat, so I like to involve the setting.”

Pyle said nature isn’t limited to the plants and animals people see outdoors, and that it’s important to recognize ourselves as part of the natural world.

“There is more out there than just ourselves,” Pyle said. “It’s how closely we pay attention to the world that makes it more or less interesting. My method is to pay very close attention.”

Following the walk, the group will reflect in a writing workshop led by Pyle. He will give an assignment and, after the group records its thoughts, the participants will share their work.

Lee said she hopes both Idaho and Washington State students will attend Pyle’s workshop and that she has opened her home for a reception afterward. The walk, writing workshop and reception are free and open for everyone to join.

Lee said she was eager for Pyle, who has a Ph.D. from Yale in forestry and environmental studies, to visit WSU for this series because he is a great figure to bring different parts of the Palouse together for a common interest.

“He’s a scientist as well as a writer, so he’ll show us what someone who writes about the natural world observes, looks at, and the questions they ask,” Lee said. “Then he’ll talk us through how someone goes about putting that world into words.”

Cobb said she recognizes that college students play a unique role in protecting the environment today and are the future leaders of the world, she said.

The best thing for college students to do is to be aware of environmental changes and issues, she said.

“Students have been handed a big set of problems that generations before have created and plopped on to them,” Cobb said. “The fate of our community is based on having a healthy living system, and everyone needs to confront this.”