Robert Macfarlane and Rebecca Solnit on Writing, December 5

The human relationship to place is dynamic, and so is the writing that grows out of that fundamental connection. How is the genre we call nature writing changing? What are the most interesting evolutions of the form? What kind of nature writing does the world need now?

Join two acclaimed writers whose work has appeared in Orion, Robert Macfarlane and Rebecca Solnit, for a far-ranging discussion of how nature writing is evolving on both sides of the Atlantic.

Rebecca Solnit is the author of fifteen books about art, landscape, public and collective life, ecology, politics, hope, meandering, reverie, and memory. She is a contributing editor at Orion and Harper’s and frequent contributor to Robert Macfarlane is the author of the award-winning Mountains of the Mind, The Wild Places, and The Old Ways. He lives in Cambridge and was Chair of the 2013 Man Booker Prize.

Moderated by Orion‘s Editor, Jennifer Sahn, this live web event is free and open to all December 5, at 3 p.m. Eastern/noon Pacific, and at 8 p.m. GMT. Register here.

Orion hosts live web events every month. Sign up to be alerted by e-mail when a new one is announced.


  1. Here’s a list of Robert Macfarlane’s recommended books and articles mentioned during the event today:

    Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams
    Samuel Beckett, Waiting For Godot
    David Gessner, Sick of Nature
    Cormac McCarthy, The Road
    Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang
    Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
    Rebecca Solnit, Hope In The Dark
    Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams
    Caspar Henderson, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings
    Callum Roberts, The Ocean of Life: How our Seas Are Changing
    Tim Robinson, Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage and : Labyrinth
    WG Sebald, The Rings of Saturn
    Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain
    Tim Dee, Four Fields
    Gilbert White, A Natural History of Selborne
    JA Baker, The Peregrine
    JG Ballard, The Drowned World
    Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac and Other Writings on Ecology and Conservation, ed. Curt Meine, Library of America edition (2012)

    …and articles:

    “No Heaven on Earth” by Verlyn Klinkenborg, Bookforum, 2008

    “Super natural: the rise of the new nature writing,” by Tim Dee, The National, Aug 22, 2013:

  2. …and Rebecca Solnit’s ~

    Thoreau, The Maine Woods & Walden & various essays

    Mary Austen, Land of Little Rain

    Willa Cather, Death Comes to the Archbishop & My Antonia

    Peter Freuchen’s Arctic chronicles

    Carobeth Laird, Encounters with an Angry God

    George Stewart, Names on the Land

    Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

    Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

    Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her

    Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature

    Leslie Marmon Silko, Garden in the Dunes & Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit

    Paul Shepard, Man in the Landscape & Nature and Madness

    Charles Bowden, Blood Orchid

    Louise Erdrich, The Last Report on the Miracle at Little No Horse

    Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines (problematic but majestic)

    Robyn Davidson, Tracks

    TTW, Refuge (Leap?)

    Jaime de Angulo’s writings on Native Californians

    Jim Harrison, Dalva and The Shape of the Journey

    John Haines, The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer [poems]

    Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams

    Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America & Collected Poems

    Richard K. Nelson’s writings on subarctic peoples

    Piers Vitebsky, The Reindeer People

    Gary Paul Nabhan, The Desert Smells Like Rain

    Chip Ward, Canaries on the Rim

    Jane Tompkins, West of Everything

    Jill Fredston, Rowing to Latitude

    Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places

    Hugh Brody, The Other Side of Eden

    Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place & garden essays

    William Kittridge, Hole in the Sky & Having It All

    Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild (and Tom Killian and Gary Snyder, Tamalpais Walking and The High Sierra of California)

    Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

    Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography

    Bill McKibben, Eaarth, Deep Economy, Oil and Honey

    Andrew C. Isenberg, The Destruction of the Bison

    Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire

    Alan Weisman, The World Without Us

    Rob MacFarlane, Mountains of the Mind & The Wild Places

    Amy Leach, Things That Are

  3. Do the authors Rebecca and Robert have any comments on the book: “Your Brain on Nature” by Selhub and Logan?

  4. It is excellent that Orion paired Rebecca Solnit and Robert Macfarlane. Your writings, for me are both wondrous in new perspectives, and familiar. Each harkens back in its own way to the best of nature writing a hundred years ago – writings that forever changed peoples behaviors.

    As an urban dweller I gain much from Solnit’s writing on the practitioners of the city while Macfarlane sojourns us on remarkable pathways with a key sense of once and future. Solnit reminds me of John Burrough bringing life to backyard wildlife, as well as Charles Eliot’s need for nature in the urban. Macfarlane picks up seamlessly for me on John Muir taking a walk 1,000 miles across country and travels in Yosemite.

    Is it wrong to draw such lines, to so box you?

    Bravo to you both for continuing the complexities and challenging us to see a new.

    You remind that the work of nature writers today is no easier than the work of those establishing national parks and the nature study movement a century ago. The only thing that gets people to listen and to possibly modify behaviors is to say it very well. Thanks to you for making the familiar strange and for vanquishing the mundane of urban life and the routes we travel.

    About familiar strange, as an aside, I am still having difficulties getting my head around walking a trail barefoot on water. Very glad it was off of England and not in the Sea of Galilea. No less strange may have been my experience of swimming in the Sargasso Sea where the water was so clear one felt weightless, floating over a daunting height of nothingness.

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