Finding Wildness: Author Dave Gessner Visits UMF for Visiting Writer’s Series

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David Gessner reads from “All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West.”

After a year and a half of planning, Dave Gessner, author of nine successful books, visited UMF to read from his latest non-fiction “All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West.” UMF Student Nathaniel Duggan gave Gessner an elaborate introduction, mentioning his other books, Return of the Osprey, Sick of Nature, My Green Manifesto, and The Tarball Chronicles, which won the 2012 Reed Award for Best Book on the Southern Environment and the Association for Study of Literature and the Environment’s award for best book of creative writing in 2011 and 2012. He has published essays in many magazines, including Outside magazine and the New York Times Magazine, and has won the John Burroughs Award for Best Nature Essay, a Pushcart Prize, and inclusion in Best American Nonrequired Reading.

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UMF English Student Nathaniel Duggan introduces Gessner.

Gessner has taught Environmental Writing at Harvard and currently teaches at University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Also a fan of blogging, Gessner and Bill Roorbach write for Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour; a fun website full of reviews and non-fiction accounts.

Technology is destroying us. Nature can restore us.

That’s how Gessner starts off his forum. A topic of conversation that many college students can relate to, even me, as I type these words on my laptop computer and check my phone. Gessner shares his experience of growing up in Worchester, Massachusetts, a place where nature is hard to appreciate. Only later in his life when he was accepted to University of Colorado in Boulder and traveled west towards the Rocky Mountains is when nature started to dominate in his writing, reading, and overall outlook on life.

What is it about nature that inspired us humans so much? Gessner tells us: WILDNESS. Our primal instincts are alive in places where organic beauty is a reality. But then he turns around to argue that our most wildest moments can happen right at home – where domestic and family life is most crucial. He gives crushing examples of life and death experiences where he holds his father’s hand while he exhales his last breath or when he watched his wife through giving birth to his daughter.

There is nothing tame about a C-Section. Life and death experiences take us to our primal selves. These are the wildest places I have ever known.

He moved on to another topic dear to his heart: Ultimate Frisbee. Clearly UMF students can relate. According to Gessner, Ultimate Frisbee is one of the wildest actions that humans can be involved in. My favorite quote being:

Playing Frisbee is like being a writer: you’re throwing yourself into a passion that most people find ridiculous.

Reading from one of his books, Sick of Nature, he retold the moment where his father was hit straight in the temple with a frisbee from one of his teammates. A moment of unleashed passion, directed right at his father’s head. Humorous and profound somehow – it works.

IMG_6732After moving to Colorado, Gessner was blown away by the authors and literature of the area, most importantly Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner. Abbey and Stegner were both environmentalist writers with completely different styles both in writing and lifestyle. Although not familiar with them myself, they had an incredibly impact on Gessner as he toured the American West and seeked out the places that were the most important to these authors. All the Wild that Remains is the account of this trip. My favorite example that Gessner gave was from Edward Abbey who was describing the moment he first witnessed the Rocky Mountains, being like a young boy’s first time witnessing the naked body of a woman – magical beauty.

All in all, it was an incredible performance for UMF. Gessner is a man passionate about his work, environmental and political literary work, and the environment around us both in nature and in the home. For more information on his books, click here for his website.

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