Writer, naturalist and activist Janisse Ray will be on four campuses in four days next week in a blitz to get St. Pete Community College students face-to-face with a real, live author.
Ray will be speaking at the Downtown campus on Monday, Nov 4 (12:30 P.M., DT226), Gibbs campus on Tuesday, Nov. 5th (11:00 A.M., LI101) and Wednesday, 6th (12:00 P.M. in the library), and Seminole on Thursday (12:00 P.M., UP303). In addition, she will be visiting classes and interacting with students one on one.
Ray has published five books of creative nonfiction and a collection of poetry. All of her work has at its center her concern for the environment and the instinct to live more sustainably on the earth. Her first book, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, a memoir about growing up on a junkyard in the doomed longleaf pine ecosystem, was published in 1999 to high acclaim. Anne Raver of The New York Times said of Janisse Ray, “The forests of the South find their Rachel Carson.”
In subsequent books, Ray’s eye turned toward rural community, wildland corridors, and the Altamaha River near her home in southern Georgia. Most recently, she published The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, which outlines the crisis and hope surrounding agrodiversity and our seed supply. The book came out in 2013 and has already won five awards.
Ray has been writer-in-residence at a number of universities and looks forward to coming to St. Pete. “Part of the thrill of my life is meeting students,” she said. “College is a transformative time and I consider it an honor to be invited to engage students with ideas that perhaps they never considered.”
“My job is not to turn everyone into an environmentalist,” she said. “We’re all already environmentalists, because every one of us cares about fresh air to drink, clean water to drink, good food to eat, and staying healthy — the things that the earth provide us. No, my job is to encourage everyone to think about the important things in life, the things we love, and consider how we might protect those things.”
Ray holds an MFA from the University of Montana, and in 2007 was awarded an honorary doctorate from Unity College in Maine. She lives on an organic farm and is a gardener, seed-saver, tender of animals, and slow-food cook.
SB: For readers who may not be familiar with your latest work, can you tell us a bit about The Seed Underground and what compelled you to write it?
JR: In a word, hope. The good-food movement is the most hopeful thing going right now. Plus I’m fascinated by agrodiversity & I really care that we humans retain the ability to feed ourselves and to be well-nourished in doing so.
SB: Monsanto has been in the news quite a bit lately because of controversy over their genetically-modified seeds. How effective do you think individuals preserving seeds can be against such a giant international company or do you think real change will require a larger organization or government support?
JR: Real change will require passionate people forming organizations & pressuring government to make changes. Because of the global scale at which companies like Monsanto are working, large-scale action will be required.
SB: What do you think are the most important environmental issues facing us right now?
JR: Without a doubt, climate change. It overshadows every other environmental issue. However, I don’t believe in the marginalization of the destruction of nature by referring to “issues.” I think the real problem facing us is a failure of the human imagination to embrace the vital relationship we have to the earth. Mostly I blame the economic system of unlimited progress, with a overly narrow definition of and wrong-headed emphasis on “progress” and “growth.”
SB: How do you counter people who say that economic strength is more important than the environment?
JR: Without the processes of the earth, we humans can not survive. It’s that simple. We ignore environmental devastation at the peril of humanity.
SB: What author do you think has had the most influence on you?
JR: Wendell Berry, a Kentucky essayist and poet who is doing the most profound thinking of anyone in the country about what we’re doing to the earth.
SB: What is the one point you would like young readers to take away from your work?
JR:That every one of us loves the earth. That we are indelibly connected to it. That we all need to be making decisions based on sustainability, biodiversity, and longevity of life on earth.