Do you think writing can be influenced by place and, if so, how has the Midwest influenced yours?
I think it does so at many levels. Place provides the specific details and settings from which a work of literature is constructed. I’m also intrigued by the possibility that it can influence style and form. Patricia Hampl observed that the style of Man Killed by Pheasant “replicates the laconic surface and passionate undercurrents” of this region, and I think that’s true of a lot of midwestern writing. Regardless of where we live, place influences the way we look at the world, our patterns of thought and behavior, and I think that inevitably influences the way we put words together. I think the form of this memoir is a lot like the midwestern landscape as I’ve experienced it: segmented, divided into plots, some a little wilder than others, some smaller or larger, each observed from slightly different points of view, but all interrelated. I also think the humor in this book is a product of growing up here. Many midwesterners are raised to be self-deprecating and learn early on how to deal with life’s challenges by using humor.
What role do you see humor playing in nature writing?
I think, in general, writing about the environment lacks humor—and there is good reason for that. When one considers the state of the environment today, there is much to be depressed about. There is also much to be hopeful about, and that’s where humor can help us. The kind of humor I’m talking about doesn’t arise from a sense of superiority, but just the opposite: a sense of humility rooted in the knowledge of our smallness and fallibility. That knowledge can also lead to a sense of helplessness—What can I do that will make any difference?—but humor tends to disarm that fear and open us to the possibility of making positive changes, no matter how small. If we can honestly examine our lives, acknowledge our contradictions and failures, and then laugh at some of them, maybe we’ll treat the world and its creatures with a little more care, affection, and gentleness.
Excerpt from "Titan" in Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships
I watched as first light slowly carved out the saddle of the Santa Rita Mountains. My family and I had flown into Tucson during the night, during the first Christmas blizzard there in thirty-some years. While Grandma Kathryn drove us south from the airport to their home in Green Valley, I could see nothing of the land itself. Snow—great gobs of it—was falling into the light of the highway lamps, just as it had been when we left Des Moines. Now, in the growing dawn, the snow was resting like fur stoles on the shoulders of the saguaros, though it was already starting to melt. All of winter in a night. The desert was beginning to reassert itself: its dry ascending angles, its spiny, ground-scratching fertility. I still couldn't believe I was there, in the Sonora.
John Price is the author of Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships