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Janisse Ray wows audience with elaborate reading

Janisse Ray reads from her book, "Drifting into Darien: A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River." (Northern Review photo/Kasy Long)

"For Kasy, in honor of the stories deep in our hearts. Write them.”

That is the autograph environmental creative nonfiction author Janisse Ray personally wrote in my copy of her memoir, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. That is expert writing advice, if I do say so myself. I will write the stories in my heart, Janisse. I will.

Ray presented a reading Tuesday evening on Ohio Northern University’s campus, the first event in the English Department’s Spring Reading Series. Ray has been visiting ONU’s campus this week as part of the Council of Independent Colleges' (CIC) Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows program, which allows her to travel to two college campuses in the country every year for educational purposes.

I know that I have certainly learned so much from Ray’s visit, and I am confident that many other students feel the same way. She is truly a profound example to English majors of a successful writer. Not only has her life been incredibly fascinating, but her writing is just as beautiful and intriguing.

Ray is a nature writer, blending her love for creative nonfiction and science into her work.

"I tell the truth with my writing. I was a poet first, but I have a passion for the environment. I marry the two,” Ray said in an interview I had with her on Monday morning.

She began the reading with a series of poems, “King Fisher,” “Rescue,” “Service,” and “Bird Banding with the Biologist.” Each of these poems immediately clued the audience into believing that she has a strong passion and love for the environment.

"All of us have a tremendous love for the environment. This planet is our home and so many of us have this unconditional love for it. I try to showcase that with my writing,” Ray added.

For the majority of the reading, Ray beautifully narrated an extensive chapter, titled “Tributary,” from her novel Drifting into Darien: A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River. It was incredibly fascinating to hear Ray describe incidents so visually.

After the reading, Ray answered questions from the audience. She quickly described that she writes about her obsessions.

"I write about things I’m obsessed about – the things that won’t leave me alone,” she said.

It is easy to identify that Ray is obsessed with the planet. She loves Earth and she wants more people to live a sustainable lifestyle.

Lastly, Ray concluded the reading with two brief chapters from her memoir Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. Both chapters focused on different perspectives of her grandparents. It was perfect for Valentine’s Day, for even though her grandparents did not stay married their entire lives, when her grandmother died, she whispered her ex-husband’s name. The chapter definitely put a smile on my face.

Ray loves visiting college campuses.

"I love working with young people. I hope to show them that it’s important to design our lives to connect with the outdoors. This planet is all one world. Young people are so enthusiastic. That’s why I love working with them, but also learning from them,” Ray concluded.

Thanks for the educational lesson, Janisse. I hope you can visit Ada, Ohio again in the near future. 

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