Nature writer Gavin Van Horn opens spring lectures Feb. 8 on ‘Re-Envisioning Nature’

Humanities series concludes with Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Kolbert in April

KINGSTON, R.I. – Feb. 3, 2023 – The University of Rhode Island Center for the Humanities will open the second half of its “Re-Envisioning Nature: An Environmental Humanities Lecture Series” on Feb. 8 with Gavin Van Horn, executive editor at the Center for Humans and Nature Press.

The year-long series, which opened in the fall, explores the contributions of environmental humanities scholars – historians, writers, musicians and others – to how we understand and address vital issues facing the planet. The in-person and virtual lectures are free and open to the public. To register for individual presentations, go to the series website.

Along with Van Horn, the spring talks will feature Jake Blount, an expert in early folk music of Black Americans, and Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Elizabeth Kolbert.

“The Center for the Humanities is thrilled to continue its environmental humanities series this spring with an exciting lineup of speakers who illustrate the breadth and diversity in the field,” said Evelyn Sterne, the center’s director. “While our fall speakers included a writer and conservationist, an English professor and two environmental historians, our spring series includes a nature writer, a science journalist, and a Providence-based musician who is also a scholar of Black musical traditions and their relevance to interpreting climate change.” 

“We hope the series continues to demonstrate the relevance of the arts and humanities to engaging with the current environmental crisis and the ability of practitioners in these fields to engage with colleagues in the social and hard sciences.”

On Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m., Van Horn will present a virtual lecture on “Paths to Wildness,” exploring how wildness (not wilderness) is a vital force that flows through all types of beings and places, including densely populated urban areas. He will also discuss the possibilities for bringing the “lifeworlds” of other beings into our consciousness, our practice and our everyday landscapes. (Register for the talk at the lecture page and a link to the lecture will be emailed to you.)

At the Center for Humans and Nature Press, Van Horn develops and directs transdisciplinary projects that attempt to clarify “what it means to become human within a more than human world.” He is co-editor of the award-winning, five-volume series, “Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations,” and author of “The Way of Coyote: Shared Journeys in the Urban Wilds.”

On Friday, Feb. 24, Blount will discuss “Go in the Wilderness: Black Spirituals and the Natural Environment,” looking at the complex role of nature in spirituals. While spirituals often despair finding joy in the world, vivid natural imagery plays a key role in their depictions of worldly events and the afterlife. His talk will be held at 3 p.m. in the Hope Room of the Higgins Welcome Center, 45 Upper College Road, with a concert at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall of the Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road.

Blount, a skilled performer in spirituals, blues and string band repertoire, has performed in such venues as The Kennedy Center and Newport Folk Festival. In his presentation, he will perform selections from his latest album, “The New Faith,” which was released in September as part of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings’ African American Legacy Series.

The lecture series will close Thursday, April 13, with a conversation with Kolbert, moderated by URI labor and environmental historian Erik Loomis. A staff writer with The New Yorker for more than 20 years, Kolbert is the author of “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,” a study of mass extinctions that won the Pulitzer Prize. Her latest book, “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future,” has been listed among the best books of the year by The Washington Post, Time, Esquire, and Smithsonian Magazine.

To prepare for Kolbert’s appearance, URI community members and the public can take part in a community-wide Big Read of “Under a White Sky.” To take part, fill out the form. The first 100 people to sign up will get a free copy of the book.

The closing event will also be part of the center’s annual Spring Humanities Festival, which will include the presentation of the humanities achievement awards to an undergraduate and graduate student who have made strong contributions to the field of the humanities and URI and show promise in a humanities-related career