The first letter traveled over 16,000 miles. From there, South African writer and scholar Julia Martin and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, essayist and environmental activist Gary Snyder forged a relentless conversation on topics as far-ranging as the environment, gender politics and daily life.
Their decades-long correspondence can be found in Nobody Home: Writing, Buddhism, and Living in Places
Snyder, most famously known for Mountains and Rivers Without End
, a 40-year epic work of poetry, and Practice of the Wild
, a collection of essays, spoke to the Current
from Kitkitdizze (his California home on the San Juan Ridge) in honor of the pair’s upcoming evening of inquiry and poetry on March 4 at Trinity University. This rare occasion will mark only their fourth face-to-face meeting in more than 30 years.
Do you think that your relationship with Julia was enhanced because you communicated primarily through writing? Would your relationship have been the same in person?
Probably not. There’s something about the distance and the informality of letters. But the main thing is, for me, that Julia is very good at asking questions. I’ll talk to anybody that will ask questions. Not many people are good at asking questions.
How would you propose that Americans become “people of place?”
First you have to learn about where you live. [This] means knowing what the native plants are … You have to know where your rivers and your creeks are; that is to say, be aware of the water shed … Learn what can be learned from the people that were here earlier … What did they know about the landscape that we don’t know now or have ignored? One of the ways that you do all of this is you get out and go for walks or ride your bicycle, and you have a flower book, a bird book and several other books so that you will know the trees and the plants.
How have your extensive travels enhanced your sense of place?
Well, now I know what to look for. If you don’t know anything about your own place, how the heck are you going to know any other place?
The line between your role as a writer and as someone who interacts with nature is pretty blurred.
Well, of course. A writer is a person who lives in the world. How could they write about anything if they didn’t know a lot of stories, or a lot of people, or a lot of gossip?
In a letter to Julia you said: “The 60s were for one to finish their work in, and one’s 70s were to play.” So you’re in your 80s now – what are they for?
Your 80s are to do what you didn’t get done when you were younger. I’m afraid I was a little bit optimistic when I said that.
An Evening With Gary Snyder and Julia Martin
Free, 7:30pm Wed, Mar 4, Chapman Center, Trinity University, One Trinity Pl., 999-8884, tupress.org.