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Black to Nature - Pastoral Return and African American Culture

Black to Nature

Pastoral Return and African American Culture

By Stefanie K. Dunning
Hardcover : 9781496832948, 208 pages, 25 b&w illustrations, April 2021
Paperback : 9781496832931, 208 pages, 25 b&w illustrations, April 2021

Close readings of Black women reclaiming space within the power of nature


In Black to Nature: Pastoral Return and African American Culture, author Stefanie K. Dunning considers both popular and literary texts that range from Beyoncé’s Lemonade to Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones. These key works restage Black women in relation to nature. Dunning argues that depictions of protagonists who return to pastoral settings contest the violent and racist history that incentivized Black disavowal of the natural world. Dunning offers an original theoretical paradigm for thinking through race and nature by showing that diverse constructions of nature in these texts are deployed as a means of rescrambling the teleology of the Western progress narrative. In a series of fascinating close readings of contemporary Black texts, she reveals how a range of artists evoke nature to suggest that interbeing with nature signals a call for what Jared Sexton calls “the dream of Black Studies”—abolition.

Black to Nature thus offers nuanced readings that advance an emerging body of critical and creative work at the nexus of Blackness, gender, and nature. Written in a clear, approachable, and multilayered style that aims to be as poignant as nature itself, the volume offers a unique combination of theoretical breadth, narrative beauty, and broader perspective that suggests it will be a foundational text in a new critical turn towards framing nature within a cultural studies context.


"This book is nothing short of a revolution in Black thought at its intersection with what we know of as the natural world. Dunning’s discussions of land and sovereignty, and ownership and the Black self, are paradigm shifting and so very necessary. Black to Nature is beautifully argued and challenges us in this moment to find ourselves at the feet of Black conceptions of inhabitation and, yes, life. "

- Sharon P. Holland, Townsend Ludington Distinguished Professor, Department of American Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"Dunning shows an impressive depth and breadth of research, connecting the likes of Francis Bacon and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Kanye West and Beyoncé with grace and elegance. Black to Nature is an interesting stylistic hybrid, incorporating personal moments and autobiographical passages, virtuoso close readings of a small range of primary texts, and an array of Very Big Ideas from Jared Sexton and Zen philosopher Alan Watts, among others. "

- Anthony Wilson, associate professor of English, LaGrange College

"Dunning’s book is a poignant, unforgettable, and layered study of the power and promise of Black ecologies."

- Katie Hogan, Ecozon

"Stefanie K. Dunning’s Black to Nature offers a rich discussion of the ways that Black texts—both verbal and visual—engage nature. Additionally, her project enriches debates in ecocritical and environmental humanist circles that highlight (and perhaps celebrate) the ways that Black and liberatory conceptions of engagements with nature represent an inherent subversion of the ills of Western “civil” society."

- Chelsea Mikael Frazier, ISLE

"In this brilliantly crafted work Dunning provides both scholarly and personal analysis of the relationship between societal views of nature and Black racial history. . . . Highly recommended."

- L. L. Johnson, CHOICE

"This is an excellent book. . . . readable, thought provoking, informed and passionate on every page, and well-suited for use in graduate and advanced undergraduate classes."

- Jane Caputi, Journal of American Culture

"Black to Nature is neither utopian nor dystopian in its depiction of an environmental furture for humans. It is decidedly abolitionist in its orientation. The book succeeds in offering trenchant cultural criticism and perceptive literary analysis while enhancing the small but growing body of work on Black ecological thought."

- Claudia J. Ford, Legacy