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Tales of Two Planets: Aimee Nezhukumatathil & Kawai Strong Washburn

Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Kawai Strong Washburn talk about writing and the environment in this conversation from the 2020 Portland Book Festival.

In this episode, we feature an event from the 2021 Portland Book Festival, moderated by author and editor, John Freeman. The event title keyed off of Freeman’s anthology of the same name: Tales of Two Planets: Stories of Climate Change and Inequality in a Divided World. Freeman sat down with authors Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Kawai Strong Washburn to talk about writing and the environment, and the conversation naturally turns to language and its relationship to history, connection, identity and the natural world. How and why do we write about a natural world in crisis? What are the ethics of doing so? What lesson can we draw on from biodiversity for our own cultures?

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is an acclaimed poet and author of the illustrated essay collection World of Wonders. It’s a book about the natural world and the way its inhabitants can teach, support, and inspire us.  Kawai Strong Washburn’s debut novel Sharks in the Time of Saviors is about the supernatural events that force a family to reckon with the meaning of heritage and the cost of survival.


Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author World of Wonders, an illustrated essay collection, as well as of four books of poetry, most recently, Oceanic, winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award. Other awards for her writing include fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Mississippi Arts Council, and MacDowell. Her writing appears in Poetry, the New York Times MagazineESPN, and Tin House. She serves as poetry faculty for the Writing Workshops in Greece and is professor of English and Creative Writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.

Kawai Strong Washburn was born and raised on the Hamakua coast of the Big Island of Hawai‘i. His work has appeared in Best American Nonrequired ReadingMcSweeney’s, and Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, among other outlets. He was a 2015 Tin House Summer Scholar and 2015 Bread Loaf work-study scholar. Today, he lives with his wife and daughters in Minneapolis. Sharks in the Time of Saviors is his first novel.

John Freeman is the editor of Freeman’s, a literary annual published by Grove Press, and executive editor at Alfred A. Knopf. He has written several books of nonfiction including, How to Read a Novelist and Dictionary of the Undoing, as well as three collections of poems, Maps , The Park, and the forthcoming Wind, Trees. Between 2014 and 2020, he edited a series of anthologies on inequality, concluding with Tales of Two Planets, which focuses on the climate crisis and global inequality. His latest books are The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story and, with Tracy K. Smith, There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love, in which poets, novelists and essayists create a space to respond to catastrophes and racialized violence of 2020. Freeman’s work has been translated into more than 20 languages and appears in The New YorkerThe Paris Review, and Zyzzyva. He lives in London.

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