Our panel of writers, teachers, and activists will discuss the elements environmental writers bring to storytelling: how to tell or teach stories that support political action, reveal or foster a better understanding of past and present environmental crises, and how writing can narrate interconnections of people and places across genres. Each contributor connects Boston-area concerns with larger geographies and histories: Inupiaq poet Joan Naviyuk Kane links her Alaskan homelands with her current home in Cambridge; Kate Brown connects distant nuclear and local plant histories; historian Tony Perry examines the relationship of enslaved peoples in the early United States with their environments; Kerri Arsenault traces pollution in the Northeast; and panel moderator Bathsheba Demuth connects histories of New England and the Arctic. Through guiding questions about genre, audience, and writing across disciplines, the panelists will discuss how the past and present can be linked through storytelling to an environmentally just future.
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Kerri Arsenault is book review editor at Orion magazine, teacher, book critic, and author of Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains, which won the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Leonard Prize. Her work has appeared in Freeman’s, the Boston Globe, Down East, the Paris Review Daily, the New York Review of Books, Air Mail, and the Washington Post.
Kate Brown is the Thomas M. Siebel Distinguished Professor in the History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of several prize-winning histories, including Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters. Her latest book, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future, translated into nine languages, won the Marshall Shulman and Reginald Zelnik Prizes for the best book in East European History, plus the Silver Medal for Laura Shannon Book Prize. Manual for Survival was also a finalist for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pushkin House Award, and the Ryszard Kapuściński Award for Literary Reportage.
Joan Naviyuk Kane (Inupiaq) is the author of eight collections of poetry and prose, for which she has received a Guggenheim and other honors. She teaches in the department of English at Harvard, is a lecturer in the Department of Studies in Race, Colonialism and Diaspora and the Department of English at Tufts University, and MFA faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She was a 2021 Practitioner Fellow at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University, and the 2021 Mary Routt Endowed Chair of Creative Writing and Journalism at Scripps College.
Bathsheba Demuth is an assistant professor of history and environment and society at Brown University. An environmental historian, she specializes in the lands and seas of the Russian and North American Arctic. Her interest in northern environments and cultures began when she was eighteen and moved to the village of Old Crow in the Yukon. For over two years, she mushed huskies, hunted caribou, fished for salmon, and otherwise learned to survive in the taiga and tundra. Her prize-winning first book, Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait, was named a Nature Top Ten Book of 2019 and Best Book of 2019 by NPR, Barnes and Noble, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal among others. From the archive to the dog sled, she is interested in how the histories of people, ideas, places, and other-than-human species intersect. Her writing on these subjects has appeared in publications including the Atlantic, Granta, and the New Yorker.
Tony C. Perry is Curator of Environmental History at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. He specializes in African American history as well as early American environmental history. Before coming to the National Museum of American History, he was a professor at the University of Virginia in the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies. He researches the environmental history of American slavery and how this history has informed broader issues around race and the environment. His forthcoming book focuses on enslaved people’s relationship to the environment and how they leveraged this relationship to reckon with being enslaved in early America. He continues work on a digital archival project that documents the perils and promise of water in African American life from the period of slavery to the present.