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Book review: Gathering – Women of Colour on Nature, edited by Durre Shahwar and Nasia Sarwar-Skuse

24 Mar 2024 5 minute read
Gathering: Women of Colour on Nature, edited by Durre Shahwar and Nasia Sarwar-Skuse, is published by 404 Ink

Kathryn Tann

As a reader (and writer) dwelling often within that genre of ‘nature writing’ – with all its canonical flaws – I was thrilled to see 404Ink publish Gathering: Women of Colour on Nature.

It is a collection of voices seldom previously heard among the typical nature writing crowd – made loud and unignorable by their gathering together in this promising book.

In their joint foreword, editors Durre Shahwar and Nasia Sarwar-Skuse make clear that, despite what the average bookshop shelves might imply, ‘nature belongs to all’.

Their aim, in the creation of this anthology, is to make a small step on the long road to redressing the great imbalance ‘in a genre long-dominated by male, white, middle-class writers’.

And though the book itself is slim and light in the hand, it weighs heavy with the breadth of subjects held within it.

From climate justice to colonialism, from rural inequality to urban reality: this is no small book.


Like its foreword, most of the essays in Gathering are short and tightly packed. There are few wasted words in this collection, with the majority of its contributors making the absolute most of their allotted space to express important or personal narratives – often both.

There are pieces which feel like a release: a breath of air above the surface, having been held under water for too long.

This book, like any good nature writing, turns out to be about a multitude of things: it’s call answered in different ways by a multitude of artists and thinkers – too many, regrettably, to fairly cover here.


Gathering’s authors are present in all of its essays, making for a compelling set of personal stories which ground the bigger themes and histories addressed.

Dr Sofia Rehman deftly weaves together writing on the female body, faith and climate change, sharing how Islam holds her connection to nature.

‘Women and the earth, both portals to and from the divine,’ she says, reflecting on birth and death. ‘…And yet both so utterly exploited and subjugated by the greed and tyranny of men.’

Louise Adjoa Parker offers us a personal history, multi-functioning as social commentary: a gentle, observational essay about the under-addressed racism embedded in rural Britain.

Elsewhere, artist Maya Chowdry structures her piece around a seemingly simple, familiar commodity: sugar.

Challenging our everyday acceptance of the symbols of historic inequality and trauma, Chowdry addresses the reader directly, drawing them into an ‘interactive essay’ which demands our full attention – not to mention taste buds.

Here, that typical ‘nature writing’ genre is most interestingly pushed.


In her excellent essay ‘World and Being’, Kandace Siobhan Walker addresses the  arbitrary boundaries, made by the English language, between ‘nature’ and us.

‘Why describe the “natural world” as something that exists “around her”, as if she wasn’t part of it?’ the author asks, taking the reader through crisp vignettes of thoughts and moments.

A particular favourite of mine is a fleeting scene in which: ‘A woman with a smartphone pauses beneath a tree.’

She realises she’s never wondered what type of tree it is, and downloads an app to find out.

Her perception of the natural world is expanding: ‘And here, above her head, the tree, becoming a character in her life.’

Walker is bold with her prose, approaching the essay as a poet would; with spare and carefully crafted sentences which cause the reader to pause. To think: ‘Yes. That’s it.’

Other moments of poetry can be found in Gathering, such as on the streets of Alycia Pirmohamed’s Edinburgh: the ‘vectors of strong wind that gasped around’ her.

Descriptions like these have the wonderful ability to take the reader by the hand, to bring them into the essay right there with the author – to feel the chill wind on our face too.

At times, I wish there were more of these kinds of moments in the book. Glimpses of that power which nature writing can have – to anchor complex subjects with the senses.


Elsewhere, nostalgia is the anchor in this anthology. Adéọlá Dewis makes a collage of memories from her childhood in Trinidad, while Tina Pastora tracks the slow-building of her relationship with the outdoors, starting with a photograph on Manorbier Beach in Pembrokeshire.

Taylor Edmonds writes wonderfully about her own developing connection – this time with the south Wales coastline.

Her journey from taking her seaside home for granted, to finding joy and overcoming fear as a solo female walker, is a story shared by many – and she tells it ardently; as she would to her future daughter.

‘I’ll teach her to carve her own stories along the coast, to be brave in quiet ways.’

Edmonds’ conquering of her local coastal path – by herself – is surprisingly ‘unremarkable’, she says. A simple but powerful act; something so natural, and which should never have been withheld from her in the first place.

This idea of ownership – of belonging – is one which runs all the way through Gathering.

These are women claiming spaces, both physical and literary, which have always been theirs by right.

The result is an unapologetic and important book, publishing newer writers alongside those more established and, refreshingly, representing diverse geographies among those women of colour who have contributed. Wales, Scotland – and beyond.

As intended by its editors, Gathering is a collection which demonstrates that nature is for everyone.

‘I have never really belonged,’ writes Katherine Cleaver, in her moving essay ‘A Pencil, a Trowel and a Dinosaur Bone’, ‘…but nature doesn’t care.’

‘I no longer simply walk in nature; I exist in it,’ she tells us. ‘The green goes with me.’

Gathering: Women of Colour on Nature, edited by by Durre Shahwar and Nasia Sarwar-Skuse, is published by 404 Ink. It is available from all good bookshops.

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