Writer Robert Macfarlane reads novel excerpts as part of Literary House Series

By Heather Fabritze
Elm Staff Writer

As part of the virtual Literary House Series, the Rose O’Neill Literary House co-sponsored two events featuring non-fiction writer Robert Macfarlane.

The first webinar, which took place at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, featured readings from his various award-winning books. The Lit House also held a virtual generative workshop with him the following day.

The webinars were co-sponsored by the Center for the Environment and Society, William James Forum, Phi Beta Kappa, and Writers’ Union.

Both events were hosted by Associate Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing Professor Roy Kesey. The interlocutor for the reading was Emma Snyder, owner of The Ivy Bookshop and Bird in Hand in Baltimore, Md.

Macfarlane is a fellow of Emmanuel College at the University of Cambridge and primarily writes about environmentalism, literature, and travel. He has been published in publications such as The Guardian, The Sunday Times, and The New York Times.

Kesey, in his introduction, emphasized the incomprehensible length of time that Macfarlane often covers in his works.

“When Robert McFarlane takes the long view, he’s looking back millions of years,” Kesey said. “He does so sometimes at the service of geography, or geology, or topography, or the history of one of those fields, but also sometimes at the service of mountain climbing, or of art, or literature, or natural beauty, or the nature of time. And, in my favorite cases, at the service of all of these things at once.”

Macfarlane began the reading with an excerpt from his novel, “Underland: A Deep Time Journey,” which explores the Earth’s underworlds through scientific and mythological lenses over the course of centuries.

Macfarlane was drawn to the idea of “Underland” because of the extensive cultural effects that the the underworld has had on human culture throughout history.

According to Macfarlane, a journey into the underworld is the oldest story humans have in the form of “Epic of Gilgamesh.”

“So, there was a sort of deep atavistic narrative drawn towards the idea of a journey downwards into darkness in search of knowledge,” Macfarlane said.

Many of the novels Macfarlane read during the webinar view different parts of the world in a similar manner. His books, “The Wild Places” and “The Old Ways,” focus on cataloging the remaining wilderness and ancient routes of the British Isles.

One of his more recent books, “The Lost Words”, was co-created with artist Jackie Morris and re-introduces 20 nature-related words that were removed from the Oxford Dictionary back into the minds of children.

This work won the Children’s Book of the Year Award in 2017.

Snyder describes Macfarlane’s work as “deeply attentive” and “immersive,” and acknowledges the strong connections that they build between their readers and nature.

“I just think [Macfarlane’s] work is broadly a masterclass in marshaling attention to the natural world,” Synder said. “To the physical and cultural histories that we can interpret from our imprint on that natural world, to the interior processes that we, as individuals and societies, have, or create, or fail to create that govern how we interact with that natural world.”

Macfarlane feels that now, more than ever, this connection to nature is needed. He discussed the changes that are occurring with new environmental legislation and recent calls for action against climate change.

“We live in a time of unruly surfacings,” Macfarlane said. “We live in an accelerated geological age when… creative weaves that have been millions of years in the making are being broken and ruptured. Things that should have stayed hidden are rising to the surface.”

He hopes that the reading and workshop webinar brought attention to relevant issues involving the natural world, and that students remain aware of environmental topics that are important to them now and in the future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *