April 23, 2010

E. O. Wilson Takes to Writing Fiction

by Heather Falconer

E. O. Wilson, renowned biologist and one of (if not THE) foremost experts on ant biology and ecology has put pen to paper once again. Only this time, it’s to appeal to fiction readers who might not have the time or interest to pick up his more comprehensive nonfiction works.

The novel takes place by the side of a lake in rural southern Alabama. While the story focuses on a young boy who grows up to be a lawyer, the majority of characters, which probably comes as no surprise, are ants. In this undertaking, Wilson says he “had in mind a message, although I hope it doesn’t intrude too badly, persuading Americans, and especially Southerners, of the critical importance of land and our vanishing natural environment and wildlife.” Read more of his interview with Steve Ross of the Huffington Post here.

It’s a unique and interesting undertaking, to say the least. Here, Nature is not just present to provide atmosphere to the story — it’s a main character. Wilson is giving voice to an ‘entity’ that we typically don’t hear from (at least not in the conventional sense). Interestingly, the writer’s voice has remained intact during this jump from nonfiction to fiction. The phrasing and terminology used is not unlike that of Wilson’s very readable nonfiction books. While it isn’t always the most conversational of tones, it is nevertheless quite engaging and gets across a sense of character that many writers of fiction would envy.

What intrigues us more, though, is Wilson’s intent before writing — to create a work of fiction that not only is entertaining, but puts across a sociological message: human beings are a biological species, acting in a biological environment and everything we do impacts all that is around us.

What do you think? Could the new wave of eco-activism be subterfuge? Will making us empathetic to creatures through fiction help a conservation movement that has taken quite a few hits in the last year?

Listen to the NPR podcast on this remarkable new story by clicking here.
Or read a book review by Barbara Kingsolver in the New York Times here.

Heather Falconer

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Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics – from research writing to marine biology – in the public and private educational sectors.