20 women writing about the outdoors

16 of 21

6. Camille T. Dungy

Poet, professor, and editor Camille T. Dungy is no stranger to the world out of doors. However, it’s sadly true that black writers and other authors of color are often missing from the ongoing conversation about nature writing. “I miss seeing writers of color in the conversation,” Dungy said in an interview with the East Bay Times. “Until we have greater variety in the conversation, it is not a conversation – it is a monologue.”

But, just because people of color have been traditionally excluded from nature writing doesn’t mean that they don’t write about the outdoors and the natural world. Dungy herself has edited a volume to that effect. Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (2009) shows that African American people have been engaging with nature through art for a long time.

Dungy has written plenty of her own poetry that deals with themes such as ecology, biology and wildlife. The poem “Trophic Cascade” was inspired by the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park. Later, it became clear that wolves didn’t simply drop into place with no effect. Instead, the new and growing wolf population helped to reduce numbers of elk.

With more dispersed elk populations, beavers were able to eat willow, now less heavily browsed by the elk. Trees and other plants had a chance to grow more, making it more possible for birds to move in. Others animals like bears, foxes, rabbits, mice and badgers began to move back into the park. More plant life also helped to stabilize the soil, which in turn began to change the course of major waterways within the park. Dungy’s poem beautifully describes this complex cascade of events in a short, but deeply meaningful space.