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Every Grain of Sand

Interview with J.A. Wainwright, editor

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What are the origins of this project?

For some years, I and many of my colleagues have been using environmentally-based or ‘green’ literature in our English classes. Although relevant novels and poems can be selected in separate editions, essays are most often found in collections that are mainly, if not entirely, American in content; for example, extracts from works by Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, and so on. I thought Canadian students - in humanities and social sciences disciplines, to be sure, but also in the sciences themselves - and general readers would be additionally served by a gathering of essays that emerged from Canadian-based experience and that focus considerably on recognizable Canadian place, even if the issues dealt with are universal in scope.

Who are the contributors and what are some of the issues raised?

They are from all over. Two of them are faculty in Environmental Studies programs at Brock and York University; one is Director of the Indigenous Environmental Knowledge Program at Trent University; two are Philosophy professors at Trent and Dalhousie University; two teach English Literature at Dalhousie University and Hailton College (New York State); one teaches Religious Studies at St. Mary’s University; another is a faculty member in the Criminology Department at Simon Fraser University; one is Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada; another is President of the World Wildlife Fund of Canada; one is a free-lance nature conservationist in Ontario; and one is a consultant on environmental and indigenous peoples’ issues in Labrador.
As to the issues, the book is a combination of personal memoirs and more formal essays, so writers employ different narrative methods to present their messages and themes. Some ground their ideas in memories of childhood or their present-day experience and seek to involve readers in the extraordinary nature of the commonplace or taken-for-granted situations involving people and the places they inhabit. Others contextualize their own professional knowledge through discussions of historical and contemporary thought on environmental issues. Thus readers are asked, among other things, to consider the “ingrained human need and affinity for nature” that exist alongside the profound human capacity to destroy the natural world; to seek to understand how scientific and traditional accounts of evolution can come together for the welfare of Earth’s ecology; to participate in an erotics of nature that connects individual love of the natural to larger social and cultural activity and sustainable technology; to help break down the power-based divisions of centre-versus margin politics; to talk to our perceived enemies in environmental wars; to consider activism as worthy of personal commitment; and, above all, to resist the construction of a “post-natural world.”

Who is the audience for this book?

It is a book for experts and beginners. Certainly university students in a variety of disciplines from first-year to the graduate level, as well as general readers who are more or less aware of the debates over such things as global warming, genetically-modified foods, rain-forest devastation, and the almost daily disappearance of plant and animal species can read these essays to learn about the basics and complexities of human-natural world interactions. Each of the thirteen essays stands on its own, but there is a small-group structure within the volume that brings together pieces with similar, though not identical, approaches and values. The accessibility of the entire text is evident throughout.