As with the rest of the literary canon, men have more or less dominated the sphere of American nature and environmental writing. This is perhaps due to old-fangled notions of nature experiences as uniquely male rites of passage, as well as the idea (specious though it might be) that domestic obligations preclude female writers from embarking on far-flung adventures. Chances are, the well-documented gender byline gap plays a role too. History, however, shows that women have for centuries explored the natural world on the page—and to great effect.

With rich diversity in voices, attitudes, and styles, their essays, memoirs, novels, plays, reportage, and poetry have done much to expand the traditional definitions of nature writing. For evidence, look no further than Annie Dillard’s faith-centric Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; Kathleen Jamie’s Findings, which documents the author’s attempts to reconcile family life with her birding passion; Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which presents the endeavor of losing oneself in nature as a kind of Zen rebirth; or Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, which reveals the poetry inherent in marine biology. Few have observed New England landscapes with the observational genius of Mary Oliver, or captured the essence of the desert like Ellen Meloy. Women writers also have effectively sounded the alarm on environmental havoc, as proven in Carson’s Silent Spring and Terry Tempest Williams’s many literary admonitions against nuclear testing. By highlighting marginalized viewpoints, many other women writers have helped expand the nature writing genre beyond Walden Pond’s boyish concerns. Think Alice Walker, whose poetry recalls the stamp slavery and oppression left on sharecropped land in the South; Louise Erdrich, whose novels helped bring Native writing into the mainstream limelight; and Ursula K. Le Guin, whose fantastically utopian fiction, while set largely in space, provide Earth lovers with ample food for thought.

Such writers paved the way for a new and burgeoning wave of female authors whose work continues to inform and inspire conservation endeavors—and to entertain and inspire greenies who like to read. For Women’s History Month, we’d like to recommend 14 outstanding contemporary writers. Each of these women’s words can make us reconsider or better appreciate our relationship to the natural world. So, go find an alfresco reading spot (or at least a place with a view of the great outdoors), and dig into literary fare from the following ladies.
14 Fabulous Contemporary Lady Nature Writers — by Katie O'Reilly