Book extract: Gathering – Women of Colour on Nature
A new book, Gathering brings together essays by women of colour across the UK writing about their relationship with nature. We are pleased to publish the introduction by its editors.
Durre Shahwar and Nasia Sarwar-Skuse
A cursory glance in any bookshop or library reveals that books on nature and climate crisis are predominantly written by white authors, while writers of colour are often overlooked.
Yet the impact of the climate crisis is felt keenly by marginalised communities worldwide, particularly in the Global South. It is precisely this absence of intersectional stories, and the desire to amplify nature writing by women of colour, that led to the creation of this anthology.
Gathering arose out of a residency Durre undertook a few years ago, in which she explored her connection with the Welsh landscape as a woman of colour.
She came to the end of that residency realising that there was more to be done; more writing and art by people of colour about nature, more inclusion of our voices in the fight to save our planet, and more autonomy over what we write about and how we write about it.
Following insightful conversations between Durre and Nasia, the project gained its momentum.
Gathering felt fitting then as a title. A noun and a verb at once, signifying a move away from the individual into the collective, physically, and symbolically as this anthology does.
The Welsh word for anthology is ‘blodeugerdd’. When translated literally, ‘blodeu’ means ‘flowers’ and ‘cerdd’ usually means ‘poem’ or ‘verse’. So ‘the flowers of verse’.
The essays in Gathering aren’t poems or ‘flowery’ in the way that a literal meaning of both of those words might imply, nor in the way that writing by women about nature often gets negatively labelled as – quaint and twill. But what they do contain are different textures, colours, and scents that a verse of flowers might do.
There are essays about the benefits of cold sea swimming, overcoming fear of solo hikes, the joy of discovery, the heartache of loss, the symbiosis of nature and faith, complex historical and contemporary narratives of exploitation and environmental destruction, as well as narratives of hope.
All these essays underly a personal aspect that speaks to the embodied connection that we all have to whatever part of this earth that we occupy. The writers centre the environment from a backdrop to a protagonist, inviting us to explore the outer landscapes and the depths of our inner selves.
Gathering also evokes thoughts from Homi K. Bhabha’s essay ‘DissemiNation’ in which he writes about the gathering of scattered people, converging, and sharing lived experiences to create a singular fact of historical importance.
Similarly, this anthology is a gathering of women of colour’s voices scattered across Britain, coming together to write on nature, creating a record of their diverse reflections, and experiences. It is a powerful act of writing themselves into conversations on nature.
It felt important to include this many different perspectives, voices, and styles of writing to reflect the way that nature is made up of so many layers that come together or pull apart.
We didn’t set out to achieve a conclusive, definitive, or an authoritative book on nature. We set out to provide an instigation, to evoke curiosity, and to explore. To be playful, celebratory and gentle at times, and at other times, angry, bold, and defiant. And rightly so.
Yet, despite these varying perspectives, there are a dozen or more essays that could have been included. We hope that Gathering is the beginning of a larger conversation; that people feel themselves reflected in these words, or feel inspired to write their own, and that more spaces are created for people of colour to express ourselves unapologetically and beautifully as the writers in this book have.
The writers showcased in Gathering open doors to understanding and shift paradigms. They dismantle barriers and challenge stereotypes, inspiring a more inclusive literary world where all voices can thrive and contribute to the collective narrative. They foster an environment of empathy and shared experience through their unique perspectives.
Their words build bridges across cultures and communities, connecting readers from all walks of life. We hope that Gathering serves as a testament to the strength of personal storytelling in these challenging times, fosters meaningful connections and sparks profound conversations, so that we find ourselves renewed with hope for the future.
We invite readers to embark on this transformative journey with us, traverse the pages of this anthology, immerse in the visions painted by these writers, and feel the pulse of nature resonate within your heart.
Let us gather to celebrate and remind ourselves that nature belongs to all, and that only through collective appreciation and understanding can we protect and nurture our precious planet.
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