Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Unspoiled: Writers Speak for Florida's Coast

ROBERTA: Authors sometimes dream that a current event will dovetail with their book's launch and bring it to prominence. This is not the case for Susan Cerulean, the co-editor of Unspoiled: Writers Speak for Florida's Coast, a collection of thirty-six essays and poems contributed by writers including Connie May Fowler, Janisse Ray and many others. For Cerulean and her co-authors, the BP oil disaster on April 20 occurred just as their book is about to be launched, and embodies their worst fears. They can only hope that Unspoiled (to be released by the Red Hills Writers Project on June 1) will push forward the case for protecting the fragile coastal environment.

Welcome to Jungle Red Sue! (And ps, Sue happens to be my fabulous, multi-talented older sister!)

Tell us first about UNSPOILED. How did the idea come about? What kinds of writers agreed to contribute?

SUSAN: For nearly thirty years, our state has stood firm against oil and gas drilling off Florida shores. But last fall, a cadre of lobbyists began to push hard to nullify the long-standing law protecting our Gulf of Mexico. All we could think to do in response was what we do: Write.

So, we invited dozens of colleagues who share our love of the Gulf to donate a short piece to an anthology we hope will remind our fellow Floridians to stand up and participate in the public conversation. Some are students, some are scientists, many are well-known Florida writers. They hail from the Panhandle to the Keys and range in age from seventy-two to just nine years old.

ROBERTA: Why an anthology?

SUSAN: I'm a big believer in anthologies; this is the fifth collection I've shaped and co-edited. I love the creative energy of working with a group. Anthologies extend the reach of a book, and you have 36 built-in marketers.

Also, recruiting writers and editing come more easily to me than writing my own book length works!

ROBERTA: The whole country is watching the fight to contain the oil spill and its consequences. Are there lessons you hope we'll draw from this disaster?

SUSAN: Definitely. First, we cannot let corporations have such unbridled access to our irreplaceable commons. Second, we must shrink our own use of petroleum, our own carbon footprints. And, third, Florida must pass a constitutional amendment to ban all offshore drilling.

ROBERTA: I imagine there are plenty of folks who agree with the concept of stopping drilling in fragile ecosystems, but wonder where else our energy needs can be met. Comments on that?

SUSAN: Unspoiled reminds us that now is the time to shift from the oil dependent, industrial economy that is devastating our planet and driving climate change. We've got find our way into culture based on clean, renewable energy sources.

You can preorder Unspoiled: Writers Speak for Florida's Coast, and read a sample chapter at www.unspoiledbook.com. And Susan is happy to answer questions and comments!

Florida writer and activist Susan Cerulean's nature memoir, Tracking Desire: A Journey After Swallow-tailed Kites (University of Georgia Press) was named Editors' Choice by Audubon magazine 2005. Her writing has been most recently anthologized in To Everything on Earth: New Writing on Fate, Community, and Nature; A Road Runs Through It: Reviving Wild Places; and The Atlantic Coast and Piedmont: A Literary Field Guide. Cerulean edited Between Two Rivers: Stories from the Red Hills to the Gulf, The Book of the Everglades, The Wild Heart of Florida, and others.


  1. Gloria Jahoda, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, John D. MacDonald & a host of others in Florida's pantheon of writers who also cared about this fragile peninusula & panhandle would be proud of unspOILed.

    kudos to Sue & all.

    with hopes for wide distrubution,


  2. Hi, Susan - Welcome to Jungle Red!

    How sad that you turned out to be so prescient... and how quickly it's turned out to be true. Just last week I was reading people grumbling that wind power would be more expensive than petroleum. In what terms? Congratulations - I wish you big success with the anthology, and to folks ready to be converted.

  3. Sue: This is so so very important an issue. I fear what disasters are still in the making. Roberta, thanks for bringing Sue to the blog and for letting us know about the book.

    My brother is a fishing guide in Key West and in Montana- only catch and release, only poling or rowing with power used when it is a safety issue. He is constantly astonished with the ignorance the people in our country and beyond have about what a precarious and tenuous balance we live in.

    Thank you for making this more public.

  4. It's great to be on your blog, JRWs! You are one productive and glamorous group of talented writers.

    In answer to Hallie's question, there's an unglamorous, underutilized strategy to a big portion of our petroleum dependence. It's called efficiency and there is a great piece about it on this morning's grist.org

    Check it out!

  5. Sue, sorry about the junk in your version of the post. Our greatest techie minds are working on this now...grrr

    Would you tell us about how this is being published and how you made that decision?

    (This is me, Bobbie/Roberta, in disguise)

  6. Great question, especially since there is so much debate about the virtues of "self-publishing" these days. Our book is a product of the Red Hills Writers Project, our second volume. We like doing the work ourselves(most of the time) since we serve a local market, and we love having complete artistic control over our book, from the writing to editing to creative design. Now, of course, we've got to figure out distribution--not so easy. This way, too, all of the profits return to our nonprofit to support the next good thing. And we try to hire all our services locally, which ties in with our bioregional approach...

  7. Hi Susan,
    Welome to Jungle Red. Hopefully the crisis itself will help push your book forward and solve your distribution problems.

    Can you tell us more about how you rounded up the authors for this book?

  8. Hey Susan..welcome, and what a wonderful project-=-for a scary time.

    What's the best way for us to buy the book?

  9. Welcome, Susan. It's always interesting to me when I meet talented writer-siblings. We've got Hallie on JRW, and now you and Roberta. Any other writing talent in the family?
    Do you think talents really run in families?

  10. Hi Jan, thanks for asking. Finding the writers was actually easy. The two other editors and I have far flung webs of contacts from decades doing nature and environmental writing in the South, we just thought about geographical distribution around the Gulf and gave them a quick call. Very few writers we asked turned us down. We gave the writers about 5 weeks to do their essays, so they were absolutely working out of love of place.

    BTW, the distribution issue I'm worried about is actually getting books to stores around the country. I think we'll see a big demand. Our first print run is scheduled for 3000 books; I'm afraid that'll be too few!

  11. Hank, right now the best way to buy the book (or pre-order it), is online, at our website: www.unspoiledbook.com


  12. Rhys: my sister must have put you up to this one! While our mother was trained in journalism, it's our Dad who cracks everyone up with his amazing, often humorous vocabulary. He's in assisted living, with Alzheimer's, so most people who don't know him think his brain ought to be shot, but he's got a mind full of words. Like the other day, in a very tender moment, he was holding my hands, and letting me know how glad he was to have me there. But "gnarly" was how he described my (admittedly a bit gnarly) fingers!

    Don't you think it's more a matter of what children are brought up in--whether the background is books, TV, computer, nature--children reflect that back into the world.

    My sister and I joke about being persistent, more than extremely gifted. Although I think she is. Always was.

  13. The authors in this volume are all powerful soloists; as a chorus of voices, they'll be deafening. It's exactly what Florida needs right now - a reminder of what's at stake and the urgent need to move away from "business as usual." Thanks to all the writers and their fearless and talented organizer,Susan Cerulean. She (and her sister Roberta) know how to keep words marching across page after page and book after book.


  14. Hi Ann!! I love that--a deafening chorus of voices! I watched the news last night and it nearly broke my heart. We need all the voices we can muster for this one...

  15. Susan, I echo your comments. I iive in south Louisiana close to the gulf. I believe what we are going through will reinforce what you're hoping for Florida. Keep what you have in nature safe.

  16. This project addresses the powerlessness so many of us feel about climate change and the Gulf spill. Well timed, well done. All you readers out there: Call your senator and tell them to get going on the strongest possible climate change bill. Send him or her Unspoiled while you're at it!

  17. June, I can't even imagine watching your marshes fill up with oil, livelihoods foreclosed, air and water poisoned. But it probably coming to us too. The person who's work I most admire on this issue is Riki Ott (www.rikiott.com) She's one of our writers, but so much more. Our hearts are with you...