A Darker Wilderness
A Ms. Magazine Most Anticipated Book of 2023
A vibrant collection of personal and lyric essays in conversation with archival objects of Black history and memory.
What are the politics of nature? Who owns it, where is it, what role does it play in our lives? Does it need to be tamed? Are we ourselves natural? In A Darker Wilderness, a constellation of luminary writers reflect on the significance of nature in their lived experience and on the role of nature in the lives of Black folks in the United States. Each of these essays engages with a single archival object, whether directly or obliquely, exploring stories spanning hundreds of years and thousands of miles, traveling from roots to space and finding rich Blackness everywhere.
Erin Sharkey considers Benjamin Banneker’s 1795 almanac, as she follows the passing of seasons in an urban garden in Buffalo. Naima Penniman reflects on a statue of Haitian revolutionary François Makandal, within her own pursuit of environmental justice. Ama Codjoe meditates on rain, hair, protest, and freedom via a photo of a young woman during a civil rights demonstration in Alabama. And so on—with wide-ranging contributions from Carolyn Finney, Ronald Greer II, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Sean Hill, Michael Kleber-Diggs, Glynn Pogue, Katie Robinson, and Lauret Savoy—unearthing evidence of the ways Black people’s relationship to the natural world has persevered through colonialism, slavery, state-sponsored violence, and structurally racist policies like Jim Crow and redlining.
A scrapbook, a family chest, a quilt—and an astounding work of historical engagement and literary accomplishment—A Darker Wilderness is a collection brimming with abundance and insight.
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Praise and Prizes
“In tales of the American wilderness, Black people have typically existed on the margins . . . This volume helps fill those gaps.”
"A response to the absence of Black literature about attachment to the American landscape, [A Darker Wilderness is] a multigenerational dwelling place that is both internal and external. An abundance of relevant themes emerge: home as refuge, seeking freedom amid social oppression, gardens as healers, and the complex history of Black landownership . . . A well-curated assemblage of Black voices that draws profound connections among family, nature, aspiration, and loss."
“A Darker Wilderness is a remarkable collection of essays regarding generational experiences of the natural world….Some essays are tender and quiet; others are forceful calls to action; still others uncover natural magic in unsuspecting places. Each is creative and revelatory.”
“The essays found within the pages are as Black and boundless as the night sky. They traverse oceans, roads, mountains, stretches of forested and farmed land, alleys, and even break through prison walls. On these pages, the anthology’s writers invite readers to accompany them on journeys in the past, present, future, and beyond.”
“In A Darker Wilderness, Erin Sharkey has created and assembled the most important anthology of this decade. Here, we sit and sift through the unexpected explorations of Black folk and the wonders of our experiences with woods. This book feels like a beautifully layered black forest that must be experienced.”
“This beautiful collection of essays offers thoroughgoing contemplations of the vexing, heartbreaking, miraculous, and wonderful questions of Black people and the land, Black people and the earth, which, as far as I’m concerned, are among the most important questions there are. I’m so glad, so grateful, to have A Darker Wilderness as guide and friend; I’m so glad we get to ask those questions together.”
“Reading A Darker Wilderness feels like walking down a dim urban street that turns out to have always been a sacred wood full of magic. The poets and creative nonfiction writers gathered here offer imaginative, ranging, and incisor-sharp reflections on Black experience in and with the natural world. Their words are incandescent and irreverent, alarming and lovely, poignant and honest. Their call to remember the land, name it, share it, and tend it, will ring out long after the last page has been turned.”
“What does it feel like to be left out? Black folk know. Largely absent from the narrative of what nature means to the environmental movement, the story of America’s nature-noticing legacy is incomplete without our voices. From 1619 on, ghosting Blackness from the book of wild has been systemic. Herein, Black writers converge to tell the stories of wildness bent through Black prisms. Essential reading, no matter your color.”
“Imaginative, vexing, joyful, and heartbreaking reflections about the explorations of Black Americans in nature.”