20 women writing about the outdoors

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4. Leslie Marmon Silko

It’s strange to realize that native voices have been left out of nature writing. This isn’t to say that there should be more stereotypes of the mystical Native American who is deeply connected to the natural world — native cultures are far more complex than a shallow trope like that. Still, for any indigenous group of people who have lived in concert with the land for millennia, this exclusion is particularly unsettling.

Thankfully, there are more and more native writers who are gaining an audience for their work, both in the subgenre of nature writing and beyond. Leslie Marmon Silko, a Laguna Pueblo writer, is one of the most recognized writers in what has been called the “Native American Renaissance” of literature and art.

One of Silko’s most acclaimed works is her 1977 novel, Ceremony. In the book, a World War II veteran named Tayo returns home to the reservation of the Laguna Pueblo people. The settlement is poverty-stricken and, at first, seems like a poor choice for someone clearly suffering from PTSD.

Initially, it is: Tayo descends into alcoholism. However, with the help of friends and family members — as well as the natural landscape around them all — Tayo recovers. Animals especially play an important role in Ceremony. People in the pueblo rely on cattle to support themselves, which in turn rely on grazing plants, which themselves need rain to grow.

Other works by Silko also reflect ecological themes. Sacred Water, a limited-run book published in 1993 and handmade by Silko herself, focuses on the importance of water to life in the desert and beyond. Rain, another limited-run book published in 1997, contained similar themes.