Writer-environmentalist David Gessner visits Bookworm of Edwards
Special to the Daily
If you go ...
Who: David Gessner, author of “All the Wild that Remains.”
When: 6 p.m. Thursday.
Where: The Bookworm of Edwards.
More Information: Call 970-926-READ or visit http://www.bookwormofedwards.com.
EDWARDS — In 2012, during a summer “of fires and fracking,” award-winning author David Gessner revisited his spiritual home in the west. He took a 9,000-mile road trip from North Carolina to Colorado and through the West to understand the human and natural landscapes that shaped two of his literary heroes, Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey.
Gessner will illuminate the lives of “Saint Stegner,” the Stanford man, along with “Wild Abbey,” the iconoclast, at The Bookworm of Edwards today. Both of these past western writers frame Gessner’s recent book, “All the Wild that Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West,” which he describes as “part dueling biography, part travel narrative, part meditation, part criticism, part nature writing.”
Gessner’s creative non-fiction book recounts his dramatic journey in the footfalls of environmental activist writers, but with his own sense of urgency.
The wildness of the American West is layered with stories and hearing them, telling them and repeating them is how we locate ourselves. There is a joy to reading Gessner’s lyrical prose, and he elevates nature writing to an art form. He writes with earnestness, intelligence and humor about commitment to place, respect for wild and human communities, responsibility for and to the land.
On his route westward, Gessner pays a visit to Wendell Berry, a prodigious, versatile writer with more then 30 works of nonfiction, 20 books of poetry and a dozen novels during the past 50 years. He is also one of Stegner’s former students.
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“Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey are two who have lighted my way,” Berry said.
Their legacy calls for us to “think deeply” and to “think practically” about how we use land and water, writes Gessner.
Demystifying western myths
As the author travels further west, his way is lit in spirit by the two iconic 20th-century legends — both “so firmly entrenched in the pantheon of writers of the American West that if the region had a literary Mount Rushmore their faces would be chiseled on it,” writes Gessner.
Many readers who love the western landscape and lifestyle are familiar some of Stegner’s novels, such as “Angle of Repose” or “Beyond the Hundredth Meridian” along with Abbey’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang” and “Desert Solitaire.”
Literary writers Stegner and Abbey are still relevant because they demystify the romantic image of the west as a limitless resource and the myth of self-sufficiency.
“Contrary to the image of rugged individualism, westerners were more dependent on help and community than any other region,” Gessner said. And today, we remain dependent on each other to create practical solutions for sustainability.
Being a skilled writer and researcher, Gessner uses the tools he employs when writing fiction — creating scenes, using dialogue — to vividly portray the romance and the reality of being a steward and environmental fighter for the preservation of our natural world. To read “All the Wild that Remains” is to gather around the campfire, listen to his lively stories about western writers’ past and present, and be moved to protect the land we tread so heavily upon.
Gessner is a card-carrying westerner, although he currently resides in the east, where he is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and is the founder of Ecotone, the award-winning literary journal of place. He is the author of nine books, and has published essays in numerous magazines, including Outside magazine and the New York Times Magazine, and has won the John Burroughs Award for Best Nature Essay, a Pushcart Prize and inclusion in Best American Non-Required Reading. He hopes to win the national championship in ultimate Frisbee, but that dream remains elusive.
Lisa Ekelman works at the Bookworm of Edwards. Email comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.