Prairie Lights — Thursday, May 25 at 7 p.m.
Author and activist Taylor Brorby is a longtime voice for progressive environmentalism. Hailing originally from North Dakota, he brings a passionate love of the earth to his writing. Last year, as co-editor of the anthology Fracture, he spoke to Little Village about the value of creating new perspectives — in his more recent work, he does just that.
His highly lyrical essay Coming Alive, a story of activism and responsibility during the Bakken Pipeline protests, examines the conflict from several angles. He consistently and compellingly questions himself. It is both analytical and starkly emotional, tracing his own journey towards decisions about how far one needs to go to take a stand for one’s beliefs.
Brorby will be reading from both Coming Alive and his new poetry collection, Crude, at Prairie Lights on Thursday, May 25. He answered a few questions for us via email ahead of his reading.
What drives you to use writing as a means of activism? How do you feel your words carve a place in the larger conversation?
Writing helps me understand myself and the world around me. My inheritance is fossil fuel money — both parents worked in coal, as well as numerous extended family members. I believe it’s important to have words from someone one like me, biting the hand that’s fed me, to try to protect the world I love.
What has been most disappointing to you in terms of U.S. environmental policy since the publication of Coming Alive? How do you stay driven despite setbacks?
I work in community. I am only one person, but working in community lightens the load. We are in a time of underwhelming environmental protection, which means there’s more work to be done. Howard Zinn reminds us that democracy comes from the people, not from the government, so that means that working together with others might actually help build a democratic state. I have days that are better than others, but knowing that I’m working in community helps drive my work forward. And we have so much work to do under the current administration.
Your language in Coming Alive was very lyrical, so the fact that your next offering is a book of poetry is unsurprising. What does Crude add to your oeuvre? How does addressing similar topics in a different form inform your own understanding of them?
Poetry is such a dance form, which helps with your moments or glimpses of the natural world … I think we need to be working out of a place of beauty to combat so much distraction. We need art, because art doesn’t fit into economic terms, which is the basis of free market capitalism. Art helps us imagine other possibilities … Art is process, and lyrical writing helps root ourselves to a beautiful way of being in the world.
Poetry comes to me and flashes, where prose takes much longer to work and get in shape. I can sit down and spend hours working on a poem, where it may take weeks or months to work and essay. Both allow me to inhabit different parts of my brain to see what I think.
What is the role of hope in your writing?
Hope comes from someplace deep inside me. I’m not a very optimistic person, but I am hopeful person. I guess I find my hope in my relationships, both human and nonhuman, and the beauty in the world around me. I need long stretches of time in nature, hiking, flyfishing or kayaking. This helps anchor me to hope and to the complicated world I live in. When you are surrounded by beauty, how can you not be washed with hope?
Fundamentally, what do you believe drives action? If we view Coming Alive as a memoir of choice, how do we find that trigger? How do you decipher that moment of choice, that moment of knowing, not that you should act, but that you can’t not act?
We live in a suicidal culture, one that is hell-bent on endess consumerism and the distraction … I am trying my best to hold back that … consumerism and distraction. I guess because I spend so much time out in the natural world, away from screens, I feel that I have a moral obligation to be on the front lines. I don’t know what inspires that in other people, but for me it was roaming beautiful landscapes as a child and realizing that my family made its money by destroying those landscapes.