“Forget Nature Writing”

On November 12–15, 2009, Orion gathered together fifteen writers from across the country for a weekend-long conversation about the genre formerly known as “nature writing.” Our purpose was to discuss a kind of writing that supersedes the idea of nature being separate from the human sphere, a kind of writing that grows out of the understanding that environment is all around us no matter where we are. A secondary goal, but no less important, really, was to build community among a group of writers who work primarily in isolation, to gather them together with peers who are, each in their own way, treading a similar path.

Over the years, Orion has periodically convened writers who have been central to the formation and evolution of the magazine. This time, the invitation list was dedicated explicitly to the next generation of writers, those walking in the shadows of the Wendell Berrys and Terry Tempest Williamses, which meant, in short, no one over fifty — and quite a few remarkable twenty- and thirty-somethings.

Attending were Craig Childs, Christopher Cokinos, Camille Dungy, David Gessner, Robert Hayashi, Amy Irvine, J. Drew Lanham, Amy Leach, Kathryn Miles, Lia Purpura, Matthew Power, Erik Reece, Ginger Strand, Joni Tevis, Joe Wilkins, and Orion staff members Chip Blake, Hal Clifford, Hannah Fries, Marion Gilliam, Jennifer Sahn, and Katie Yale.

Our host for the weekend was the Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York, a nonprofit residency program with a stunning location, a glorious facility, a fantastic staff, and a noble mission. Thanks also to Chris Weld of Berkshire Mountain Distillers, our local (!) maker of fine libations, who donated several bottles of lubrication for the weekend. The event was a phenomenal success. The next generation of writers who will not go down in history as nature writers have a deep shared sense of purpose. They also excel at ping-pong.