Books

Gathering: Women of Colour on Nature review – natural highs from our natural world

A diverse, energising and heartfelt collection of nature writing that is personal and necessarily political

One of the most obvious reasons we read at all is to gain insight into the point of view of someone other than ourselves. Reading outside of our own experience can only serve to broaden our horizons and our minds. Gathering, edited by Durre Shahwar and Nasia Sarwar-Skuse, subtitled ‘Women of Colour on Nature’, is exactly that, a collection of refreshing, diverse and personal essays on aspects of the natural world and the authors’ relationship to that. 

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Nature writing in the UK is still dominated by white, male, middle-class and middle-aged voices, but this collection easily demonstrates that there is a whole pantheon of writers out there at least their equal in terms of insight, knowledge and skill.

The 16 offerings here are divergent in style, scope and focus. Some of more oblique and abstract, while others are personal and heartfelt. Weighty issues of faith, racism, history and misogyny are tackled, but with a light hand and always with an amount of contemplation and poise.

Hiking, wild swimming, biology and zoology all crop up here and there, and the specifics of each author’s background and relationship with nature adds depth throughout.

For me, the highlight was poet Alycia Pirmohamed’s essay ‘The Stones of Scotland / (a)version’, on her changing attitudes to faith and nature during the pandemic lockdown, on her sense of self and connectedness, and how that is both complex and subtle.

But this book is not about individual essays as much as it is about the communal and cumulative effect of reading a collection that is wide in range and scope, personal and necessarily political, touching and heartfelt, and above all energising and new.

Gathering, edited by Durre Shahwar and Nasia Sarwar-Skuse

Doug Johnstone is an author and journalist.

Gathering edited by Durre Shahwar and Nasia Sarwar-Skuse is out on 15 February (404 Ink, £10.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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