George R. Stewart’s pioneering and prescient writings about humans and the ecosystem are reaching out to a new generation of writers.
Nathaniel Rich is the author of several well-received books. He writes non-fiction books and essays about contemporary environmental issues, like Second Nature and Losing Earth; an intriguing novel set in New Orleans a century ago, King Zeno; the novel Odds Against Tomorrow, about the possibilities both good and bad of the immediate future. See the complete list here. ( He’s also written a book I’m anxious to get my hands on: San Francisco Noir, a description of more than 40 noir films set in San Francisco and their settings.)
Rich has written a fine new Introduction to the recent New York Review of Books Press edition of Stewart’s pioneering ecological novel Storm. He closes with a reference to the storm that destroyed the George R. Stewart Trail at Thornton State Beach – a fitting end to the story of GRS and that place on Earth once described as “of small compass and unusual value.”
Rich’s friend, colleague, and fellow writer, Chris Jennings, has published a history of those American utopian communities that hoped to change society for the better: Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism. One of the interesting ideas Jennings explores in the is how the Utopians’ ideas were affected by where they lived – not unlike Stewart’s idea that “the land is a character in the work.”
Rich and Jennings recently joined in a web conversation to discuss Stewart’s Storm from the environmentalist viewpoint. The discussion was sponsored by an excellent local independent bookstore, Point Reyes Books – which as the store’s name indicates is located in the small town of Point Reyes Station near magnificent Point Reyes National Seashore.
Their excellent discussion, a thorough and wide-ranging description and consideration of the book, lasted for about an hour. I was especially happy to note how the novel and the ideas of Stewart’s it contains had come almost as a revelation to Rich and Jennings, members of a new generation of ecosystem warriors. The book was teaching them – as it taught so many of us in the mid-twentieth century.
Watch the discussion here. (If you haven’t yet read the book please be aware that there are a few spoilers in the talk.)
Afterwards, I suggest that you read or re-read Stewart’s page-turner of a novel, which is a mind-enriching, pioneering book. It is the first ecological novel and the book from which we get the practice of naming storms. For those of you who live in the central swath of California where the storm takes place, it will help you prepare mentally for the storms sure to come this winter. If you live elsewhere, the novel’s global vision will teach you how weather ties all of us together, and ties everything in the ecosystem into one web of life, land, air and water.
If you decide to purchase (the reasonably priced) Storm or one of the books by the speakers you may want to do so through Point Reyes Books, as a thanks for sponsoring the talk.