a new era in human-environment relations

Janisse Ray


“I have seen what human desire can do and I really believe in the power of humans to figure out things.”

Janisse Ray is an accomplished writer who has published three incredibly successful books. The first, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, describes the environmental issues that become apparent when growing up in a poor Southern household and the unique perspective of nature that she acquired in her early years. She has also written many articles for Orion magazine–all while holding her own writing workshops and speaking all over the country. Bill McKibben stated, while discussing Ray’s writing: “[I]f I get to feeling a little blue about our prospects, I’m liable to reach down for one of Janisse Ray’s books just so I can hear her calm, wise, strong voice.” After talking with her about the problems of the Anthropocene, I felt a renewed sense of hope.

Ray believes literature is an important way to advocate for environmental issues, noting that “the best art has a statement, and the best statements help humankind.” I tend to agree with her perspective. I think that literature adds a dimension to our conversation about the Anthropocene. In my opinion, the biggest challenge of the Anthropocene is the need to develop new frameworks in order to talk about it effectively. This is a problem I find myself very overwhelmed with when I try to think of solutions. If we don’t even know how to talk about the issues, then how are we to fix them? But, Janisse Ray made me optimistic through her spirit and message.

Though I did feel uplifted when talking to Ray, I still have a few doubts about the possibilities for change during the Anthropocene. While it’s important to engage people through alternative formats, such as art and literature, I worry that this is not enough. How do we translate the ideas and philosophies that Ray so eloquently lays out in her nature writing? How do we translate it into action? Is writing enough to inspire others to act? I do think Janisse did a good job of noting that all of these different personalities, from the writers to the practitioners to the new generation of thinkers, are vital to solving this problem. In order to move beyond the Anthropocene and the destructive changes it brings, Ray claimed we have to focus on positive change.

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