Environmental Justice—Annotated Bibliographies
University of Nevada, Reno
Graduate students in Cheryll Glotfelty’s Fall 2008 seminar on “Environmental Justice Literature and Theory” compiled the following topical, annotated bibliographies for the ASLE bibliographies page, in an effort to expand the EJ canon in interesting ways.
Cultivating Positions of Power
Compiled by Kris Hansen
Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter. 20th Century Fox, 1999.
This movie has two points of pastoral interruption. The points of awakening leave the character homeless and outside of the system, squatting in an industrial complex, and energized for activism in revolt against the institutions that engendered these painful experiences in the first place.
Marley, Bob. “Trenchtown Rock.” Songs of Freedom. Island Records, 1975.
“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” Marley tells the story of moving from a negative feeling of anger, to a positive feeling of passion. In other words, through music, Marley encourages people to get rid of the passive feeling of pain and suffering, and employ an active feeling of joy and empowerment. As Marley states, “We free the people with music”.
Van Peoples, Melvin. A Bear for the FBI. New York: Pocket Books, 1968.
This text is a story of a young African American boy who transitions from a protected “pure” life in the suburbs to a volatile “dirty” life in the inner-city Chicago. The boy performs the reversal of the traditional spiritual awakening story, moving from “innocence” to “corruption”, rather than the other way around. Specifically, the boy moves into deep urban landscapes and finds that the purity, power, and fulfillment are not excluded from the inner-city, they are simply found in different forms. This text is a justification for the vitality of urban landscapes.
Consumer Culture and Environmental Justice: A Selected Bibliography
Compiled by Tom Hertweck
The purpose of this bibliography is to constellate the literatures and critiques of commercial culture as it intersects with the tolls that that culture takes on specific communities. In the items here, the notion that people are consumers is central. The questions for readers, then, come from the ways in which consumer and occupational choices become a recognition or disregard for the ways products and labor are the direct results of complex relations, often subjecting certain communities to greater harm—in terms of health, self-determination, economic sustainability, or otherwise. Especially interesting for me here is the ability of filmmakers (both in fiction and non-fiction modes) to engage with these topics in a fruitful way; more than just a site for plot conflict, consumer and economic issues present meaningful opportunities for interrogating motives and exposing the systemic implications of the choices we must make on a daily basis.
Borgerhoff Mulder, Monique, and Peter Coppolillo. Conservation: Linking Ecology, Economics, and Culture. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2005.
An ambitious project to rethink the connections between the cultures of global capitalism and environmental protection, the authors of this book look toward a number of areas where we place notions of value and think carefully about what those values entail. Topics are wide-ranging: intrinsic/instrumental value, the place of scientific endeavor, policy paradoxes, community definitions and self-interests, and competing ideas of just what “conservation” is. Ultimately, the authors look toward consilient versions of culture-based inquiry that fuse capital, justice, and environmental concern: ecological economics and political ecology. To this end, they advocate a more nuanced version of conservation education that applies less simple-minded ideas about “the natural” that includes how people might make their living from the world without depleting it.
King Corn. Dir. Aaron Woolf. Docurama, 2008. DVD.
An engaging documentary about the pervasive use of corn in nearly every consumer product—and especially food—a pair of friends lease a single acre of land in rural Iowa on which they grow a crop of American moncultured corn to see the process of production from start to finish. While they focus heavily on the intensive (and resource depleting) agricultural practices in the first half of the film, the second half transitions into the social costs of omnipresent corn and corn by-products, both rural and urban. The film pays special attention to the meat industry (feed corn) and health effects (especially from corn syrup), as well as the disappearance of the family farm on the American landscape. No longer an innocuous symbol of a beneficent harvest, King Corn makes the case that corn is an allegory of larger systemic problems with American culture.
The Milagro Beanfield War. Dir. Robert Redford. Perfs. Rubén Blades, Sonia Braga, Melanie Griffith, Christopher Walken. Universal, 1988.
Based on John Nichols’s novel of the same name, this film tells the story of the tiny New Mexico hamlet of Milagro as uppity white developers move in to build luxury resorts at the expense of the 300 year history of Latino farmers’ land. A complicated situation, residents are excited by the opportunity for the construction and service jobs that the development brings to the depressed town; however, the resort will undoubtedly take the entirety of Milagro’s water supply, rendering the possibility of farming in the area an impossibility. Civil unrest follows as citizens pick sides. A fine piece of film, Milagro presents the challenges of group identity in the face of shifting economic potentialities.
Pellow, David Naguib. Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago. Cambridge: MIT P, 2004.
Part history of waste in Chicago, part extension of Bullard’s work on environmental racism, Pellow sifts through the sordid history of the systematic way Chicago’s waste management has targeted communities of color in the city to bear the burden of both the health effects and labor of garbage processing. Most distressing are the developments Pellow follows through the past 20 years where some groups have welcomed immensely hazardous waste processing facilities because they offer jobs. At the same time, managers at the same waste facilities threaten employees with termination if they attempt to work toward safer conditions, forcing many to choose between their own health and their economic well-being. Pellow’s is a powerful examination of the double-bind many economically challenged communities find themselves in.
Soylent Green. Dir. Richard Fleischer. Perfs. Charlton Heston, Brock Peters, Edward G. Robinson, Leigh Taylor-Young. MGM, 1973.
Set in the not-too-distant future, global warming has made most of the world uninhabitable. Cities are overcrowded with refugees from the deserts, and food supplies are hoarded by a select few corporations whose facilities are heavily guarded fortresses. Largely also a noir-inflected murder-mystery, the film actually makes the movie’s (in)famous revelation of cannibalism an unfortunate—but absolutely necessary—circumstance: even when the truth is known, what could possibly make any difference except for mass starvation, and who could blame anyone for choosing not to die? A disturbing picture of the future—made eerily real by the prescient placing of global warming as the cause of the world’s crisis—Soylent Green makes reasonable, if repugnant, the choices people are forced to make in the face of economic and social oppression.
Wild, Antony. Coffee: A Dark History. New York: Norton, 2005.
Wild’s book, prototypical of a reemergence of interest in everyday consumer goods, uncovers the hidden history of coffee. Like others in this genre (and its forefather The Jungle—or even the sugar-slave scene in Candide) the purpose is to shed light on the systems by which we as consumers enter into only at the final point-of-sale. Here Wild follows coffee beans from cultivation in depressed third-world economies, through processing, and finally to marketing and sales, all the while taking great pains to make the readers see the webs of relations that are necessary to artificially deflate the price of a cup of joe. While more measured than a truly vitriolic indictment, Wild is careful to look toward the chief cause of this system as the legacy of the colonial world and the inability of consumers to see beyond their immediate needs—especially when alternatively sourced products are available.
The Treaty of Ruby Valley 1863
Compiled by Katja Lektorich
Bergon, Frank, The Temptations of St. Ed & Brother S. U of Nevada P. 2003. Print.
Brother S. and St. Ed, two monks whose monastery is located within an area sited to house nuclear waste, face challenges to both their religious faith and their sense of place in contemporary American culture. The novel takes place in Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas and is prompted by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) decision to dispose of nuclear waste on Shoshone reservation land. Brother S. and St. Ed are caught up in this territorial struggle as the DOE works to remove them from their monastery along with other residents from the area leading to series of encounters that investigate the desert west as a wasteland.
Frank, Joshua and Jeffrey St. Claire, eds. Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland. Albany: Ak Press, 2008. Print.
Red State Rebels is a compilation of testimony and commentary from “voices” representing various grassroots activist struggles to resist the destruction of their ways of life. This collection contains the only formally published written work I could find by Carrie Dann documenting her experience of defending Shoshone lands and rights. Carrie and her sister Mary (recently deceased) have dedicated their lives to the preservation of Shoshone land holdings and cultural practice, spearheading efforts of the Western Shoshone Defense Project and serving as cultural icons within their tribe.
Kuletz, Valerie. The Tainted Desert: Environmental Ruin in the American West. New York: Routledge, 1998. Print.
Kuletz grew up near a nuclear testing center in the Mojave Desert where her father worked as a scientist in weapons development. In The Tainted Desert, Kuletz discusses the impact of nuclear testing in Nevada both in terms of landscape and the health of Native American Shoshone people living on/near testing grounds. She goes on to discuss the proposal of Yucca Mountain as a site for nuclear waste storage claiming that science has favored government interests and practices of “nuclear colonialism.”
Our Land, Our Life: The Struggle for Western Shoshone Land Rights. Dir. Beth Gage and George Gage. Gage & Gage Films. 2007. Film.
This documentary records the continued struggle of the Western Shoshone to assert title to their land as detailed in the Treaty of Ruby Valley 1863. Carrie and Mary Dann (seen also in The Broken Treaty of Battle Mountain) become the central figures of this film as it documents their struggle to ensure the persistence of Shoshone cultural despite conflicts with mining interests and law enforcement. The Shoshone people and the Dann family suffer a great loss as Mary is killed in an accident on the family ranch; yet, they also see their greatest victory when the United Nations via the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) orders the United States to “cease and desist” any actions against the Shoshone and immediately engage a in dialogue of resolution.
The Broken Treaty of Battle Mountain. Dir. Joel L. Freeman. Cinnamon Production, 1974. Film.
This documentary details the efforts of Shoshone people to prove title to the 24 million acres of land allowed them via The Treaty of Ruby Valley 1863. At the time of this documentary, Shoshone people living on the reservation were especially concerned with the Bureau of Land Management’s practice of range improvement. “Chaining,” dragging the chains used to anchor ocean liners between two tractors, was commonly used to remove trees and shrubs in favor of livestock forage. This controversial range management practice contested land title and land use as the Shoshone held the lands where chaining was used and they also relied on pine nuts as a staple in their diets and their culture. Joel Freeman produced a subsequent documentary, To Protect Mother Earth (1991) that deals with the conflict of nuclear waste on Shoshone land.
“Hybrid Perspective”: Cross-genre and Environmental Justice
Compiled by Nick Neely
Toomer, Jean. Cane. New York: Boni & Liverwright, 1923.
This work by Harlem Renaissance figure Jean Toomer is certainly canonical as High Modernism, but hasn’t been explored in terms of EJ. Written as a series of vignettes, dramatic script, and poems, the book is a collage-like look at the agrarian Deep South and the transition of African Americans to Northern urban centers. It terms of EJ, the book gestures toward complexity and multi-vocality in relationship to land, city, and historical injustices, presenting what Larry Buell calls in his essay, “Toxic Discourse,” a “hybrid perspective”: one that recognizes the “interdependence [of natural and social concerns] that was always there to start.”
Agee, James and Walker Evans. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941.
Written two decades after Cane, this book is another work of “hybrid perspective” that simultaneously combines a social conscience and environmental conditions/degradation of American South. It focuses on the lives and plight of white sharecrop tenants, which makes for an interesting contrast to Toomer’s work. Agee’s writing is detailed, ethnographic, multi-generic, and collaborates with Evans’ portraiture. However, using Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in an EJ context presupposes that class is among possible criteria that can be used to define an EJ case.
Environmental Justice and Anglophone World Literature
Compiled by Jaffney Roode
Allen, Bruce. “Facing the True Costs of Living: Arundhati Roy and Ishimure Michiko on Dams and Writing.” Coming into Contact: Explorations in Ecocritical Theory and Practice. Eds. Annie Merrill Ingram et al. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2007. 154-167.
In this essay Allen pairs Michiko and Roy because of their shared interest in the environment and because of their engagement with fiction, non-fiction, and activism. Allen argues that these writers defy being put into distinct literary genres, and as such they are able to offer not just writing, but modern day myths that affirm people's belief in the power of spirituality and literature. In telling their respective stories of environmental degradation and the resulant cultural loss, Allen argues that Roy and Michiko are able to make their stories more powerful because their myth-like styles resonate with readers.
Beinart, William. The Rise of Conservation in South Africa: Settlers, Livestock
and the Environment 1770-1950. New York: Oxford U P, 2003.
A historian at Oxford, Beinart presents an environmental history of the Karoo – a large basin in the western portion of South Africa. Examining the ways that the health of ecosystems effect economic and social identity, Beinart argues that colonial settlers tried to understand and conserve the land they farmed, raised sheep, and controlled the flow of water. While Beinart does make note of the state’s coercive actions when dealing with native South Africans, a larger focus on the ways black South Africans were relegated to the least productive areas of the state, would help to illustrate the wide-reaching effects of colonialism.
Beinart, William and Peter Coates, eds. Environment and History: The Taming of Nature in the USA and South Africa. New York: Routledge, 1995.
Beinart and Coates note the similarities between regions of the U.S. and South Africa such as the ways that impoverished areas are often the most environmentally devastated. Of particular interest to environmental justice scholars is chapter six, which deals with “race, environmentalism and social inequality.” The editors point out how soil erosion, overgrazing, and lack of water in the settlements made agriculture difficult, however, some progress is being made as environmental activism and the government’s return of land continue. This book could fruitfully be used to simultaneously discuss Native American/subaltern literature and Anglophone world literature.
Bond, Patrick. Unsustainable South Africa: Environment, Development, and Social Protest. London: Merlin Press, 2002.
Much more “political” than Beinart’s books, Bond discusses environmental issues during and after apartheid. Capitalism, public policy, and the sustainability paradigm are all given a sharp critique. Bond urges that grassroots activism, already a force in South Africa, needs to persist in order to change environmental public discourse, political structures, and modes of production.
Coetzee, J.M. The Life and Times of Michael K. 4th ed. New York: Penguin, 1985.
In this novel, Michael K., a black South African, escapes the city to return to his mother’s rural place of birth. With no experience in farming, Michael begins to cultivate the land only to live in a constant state of paranoia as a war rages around him. The novel forces us to ask questions about population distribution, urbanization, agency, and the ways that state power determine a person’s right to, and connection to, land.
Hansen, Karen Tranberg. African Encounters with Domesticity. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1992.
In this anthology the Western notion of domesticity is viewed as one of the tools of the colonial project. Of particular interest to my research is the chapter, “Home-Made Hegemony” by Jean and John L. Comaroff. Using a Foucauldian analysis, the writers trace the European idea of home to the seventeenth century and argue that the home has always been the incubator for the moral, disciplinary, and social order of Western culture. The writers are careful to note that is a certain type of domesticity that was exported to the colonies. Their views have important implications for environmental justice: how was the domestic sphere “naturalized,” how is domesticity shaped by history, how was the land of Africa conceived in the Victorian imagination and how were those perceptions linked to physical violence, and ideological control?
Gordimer, Nadine. Get a Life. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005.
This novel centers on the post-radiation treatment life of a white, South African environmentalist. As Paul Bannerman’s body radiates with poison, he recuperates in his family’s garden and attempts to stop the sitting of a pebble bed nuclear reactor in the land that he loves. The economic and moral value of sustaining human, plant, and animal life are called into question as the veld is destroyed, and Paul’s mother adopts a black child.
Kincaid, Jamaica. My Garden (Book). New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2001.
In this work of narrative scholarship, Kincaid links the flora of her Antiguan home to the colonial history of the region. Now living in Vermont, she discusses how tending and creating a garden is a work of reconstructing memory – both one’s personal history, and a global history.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999.
This novel is a revision of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The narrative is centered on Bertha Mason, the Creole “mad woman in the attic” of Bronte’s novel. The text lends itself to an ecocritical reading in that as Bertha becomes an object of imperial desire, she cannot orientate herself spatially: is she in England? The Caribbean? Furthermore, the domestic sphere spacializes gender, race, and class status, all complicated by the colonial history of the West Indies. Criticism and secondary sources come from established postcolonial theorists such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and scientists such as Rachel Carson.
Nixon, Rob. “Environmentalism and Postcolonialism.” Postcolonial Studies and Beyond. Ed. Ania Loomba et al. Durham: Duke U P, 2005. 233-251.
In this article Nixon pleads with us to stop separating ecocriticism from postcolonial theory. Nixon urges us against simply “adding on” international literature to the ecocriticism cannon, as it reinforces the center-periphery paradigm. Rather, we have to, through the study of literature, environment, history, and geography, make visible the ways that seemingly disparate methodologies can be joined in order to reach the most holistic reading of environmental justice.
Rabbit-Proof Fence. Dir. Phillip Noyce. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Everlyn Sampi, and Tianna Sansbury. The Australian Film Commission, 2002.
The rabbit-proof fence was a fence that bisected Australia and served to keep rabbits from the farms of settlers. It served as physical evidence of the colonial imprint on the landscape. In this film the fence serves as a marker by which three Aboriginal girls navigate their way back to their family, after being abducted and sent to an official government camp. Physically marginalized from their own land, the Aboriginals suffer the loss of the environment, family connections, and shared culture.
Menchu, Rigoberta. “The Quincentenary Conference and the Earth Summit, 1992.” Women Writing Resistance: Essays on Latin American and the Caribbean. Ed. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2003. 117-35.
In this essay Menchu describes the activist counter-campaign against the Quincentary Spanish “discovery” of America. She discusses how a vast network of indigenous peoples organized to oppose this celebration. Central to her narrative is the experiences she had at the 1992 Earth Summit, and witnessing large-scale, indigenous environmentalism.
Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2000.
In this non-fiction book, Kincaid directly addresses tourists who visit her island home of Antigua. With an acerbic style, Kincaid asks tourists to consider the privileges that have led them to frolic in the Caribbean. She points to colonial history, slavery, geography, and the introduction of non-native plants and humans, to show how this “paradise” rests on the exploitation of Antiguan land and people.
Vital, Anthony. “Toward an African Ecocriticism: Postcolonialism, Ecology, and Life & Times of Michael K.” Research in African Literatures 39.1 (2008): 87-121.
In this article Vital argues that African ecocriticism is necessarily different from North American ecocriticism, because the former requires an engagement with colonial history. Though the novel examined largely takes place in a rural area, Vital contends that writing about nature is subordinated to writing about the nation. Citing Michael K.’s “elusiveness,” Vital suggests that the novel remains outside of interpretation.
Environmental Justice through Indigenous Diets and Literature
Compiled by Dave Stentiford
Breinig, Jeane, C. “Alaskan Haida Narratives: Maintaining Cultural Identity through Subsistence.” Telling The Stories: Essays on American Indian Literatures and Cultures. Elizabeth Hoffman Nelson and Malcolm A. Nelson. Eds. New York: Peter Lang, 2001. 19-25. Print.
Breinig examines the transcribed narratives of Christine Edenso, a Haida tribe member, to explore the spiritual value and moral responsibility of subsistence. The essay’s argument is that narrative is the critical link expressing the importance of subjective relationships to subsistence and therefore subsistence is a matter of cultural survival. By establishing this connection, the argument implicitly suggests that subsistence rights must be accounted for politically in terms that go beyond historic land claims. This essay is important to environmental justice criticism because it analyzes the way narrative is connected to redefining equitable environmental access and the preservation of cultural identity.
Diabetes and Desert Foods: Examples from O’odham Traditions. Dir. Barbara J. Major. Writer Gary Paul Nabhan. University of Arizona, 1991. Film.
This is a short educational film narrating the historical rise of diabetes in O’odham culture. It also outlines approaches to selecting and preparing commodity (government supplied) and store purchased foods. The film finishes by describing native desert foods that reduce the risks of diabetes. This film expresses the magnitude of indigenous health issues surrounding lifestyle. To critics, it may be an interesting text in that it uses narrative to create awareness.
Mihesuah, Devon Abbott. Recovering Our Ancestor’s Gardens: Indigenous Recipes and Guide to Diet and Fitness. Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska P, 2005.
Part historical analysis, part cookbook, this broad view project examines the problems and causes of indigenous health issues while providing readers resources to address them. Section 1 “Indigenous Health and Diet” begins by assessing indigenous health problems and recovering traditional diets and physical activity. Next, it analyzes the array of extrinsic, cultural, and biological factors that have lead to the present state of indigenous health problems. The section concludes with new thoughts on diet, exercise, gardening, and activism. Section 2 “Indigenous Recipes” is a cookbook. Theory hungry environmental justice critics will find this text particularly useful as a framework for articulating how lifestyle diseases in Native population can be analyzed in terms of environmental justice—chapter 4 “How Did We Arrive at This Unhealthy Situation?” will be particularly useful for this, especially the section “Racist Literature.”
Nabhan, Gary Paul. Ed. Renewing Salmon Nation’s Food Traditions. Portland, OR: Ecotrust, 2006. Print.
This sourcebook, edited and compiled by ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan, catalogs indigenous food sources of the northern Pacific slope of North America. Section 1 covers domesticated crops; Section 2, seafoods; and Section 3, wild foods. Similar to environmental justice criticism and its motivations for canon recovery, Nabhan’s work is important to the field of environmental justice in its efforts to recoup cultural identity and biodiversity. For the ecocritic interested in Native American literature, this book may serve as an encyclopedia to the cultural significance of crops, plants, and animals of Salmon Nation.
Welch, James. Fools Crow. New York: Penguin, 1986. Print.
Welch’s novel is set in 1870s Montana and tells the story of Fools Crow, a young Blackfeet Indian. Reading the text through a framework of diet and environmental justice is a fruitful approach because the narrative describes a fraught moment when a subsistence culture transitions into a market economy, no longer hunting for food but killing buffalo for their hides: “Pieces of fur and bone were scattered among the lodges, as though the people had dragged animals into camp, ate what they wanted and left the carcasses to the dogs” (94). Alcoholism is on the rise in Fools Crow, and the buffalo are on the decline.
Reading the Nevada Test Site
Compiled by Laurel Topken
Bird, Leonard. Folding Paper Cranes: An Atomic Memoir. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005.
This memoir is about a sergeant who was ordered into trenches at the Nevada Test Site, along with the rest of his unit; there they were to experience close range nuclear bomb detonations. As his life progresses, Bird becomes sick with cancer and hears about a Japanese girl who also had cancer from nuclear fallout. The girl has a goal to fold one thousand paper cranes for luck and peace, but never makes it. Down in the dumps, Bird becomes motivated by this girl and works toward becoming healthy enough to spread his own paper cranes through his writing. This book is linked to environmental justice because the men, people, are injured through the nuclear explosions which polluted the environment for miles around.
Bradley, John, ed. Atomic Ghost: Poets Respond To The Nuclear Age. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1995.
This is a collection of poems from people affected by “the nuclear age.” Its wide range of contributors show the effects of nuclear war on many different peoples in different lands as well as the animal and plant life. The collection highlights the different events in history: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Nevada Test Site, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and others, as well as looks to the future.
Gallagher, Carole. American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993.
This book is comprised of four photo essays on the Nevada Test Site focusing on the employees, the military, the downwinders, and the landscape. The photo essays are interspersed with interviews and narration of the subjects. As a total collection, this book portrays the extent of the devastation from nuclear testing.
Contemporary American Literary Responses to Love Canal
Compiled by Cameron Turner
Lifshin, Lyn. “Love Canal: Two Poems.” A New Geography of Poets. Eds. Edward Field, Gerald Locklin, and Charles Stetler. Fayetteville: U of Arkansas P, 1992. 148-9.
In these two minimalist, violently enjambed poems, Lifshin draws a politically dense portrait of the contaminated Love Canal neighborhood and presents a short lyric from the vantage point of a mother with a child who has serious birth effects due to toxic exposure. The most salient targets of the two poems is the complicity of state interests that failed to respond to the exigency of the community’s deteriorating human health situation in the mid-1970s. The second poem, in particular, draws strength from its testimonial form, delivering pathos in concentrated, spare verse like “I was pregnant / the state told me / nothing wasn’t / safe” (149).
Mirikitani, Janice. “Love Canal.” Sisters of the Earth: Women’s Prose and Poetry About Nature. Ed. Lorraine Anderson. 2nd ed. New York: Vintage, 2003. 287-8.
A rich, narrative poem by a third-generation Japanese American poet and human rights advocate, “Love Canal” depicts the death bed of a poisoned Love Canal mother at the end of her life, ostensibly suffering from cancer. Flickering between the present scene and analeptic portrayals of unwitting exposure to toxins, Mirikitani examines connections between poisoned geographical and female bodies, implicitly drawing parallels between the logic of patriarchal institutions and ecofeminist collapse. With its incantatory repetition of “And you will forget even this” at the head of each stanza, “Love Canal” is freighted with the importance of cultural memory and serves as moralized testimony to the event.
Oates, Joyce Carol. The Falls. New York: Ecco, 2004.
Awarded the Prix Femina Étranger in 2005, The Falls exhibits a number of Oates’ characteristic interests built over a forty-year career as a novelist: occasionally menacing domesticity, failed and failing relationships, family legacies, and the emotional maelstrom of suburban American landscapes. Joyce, however, takes a sidelong, place-based look at environmental justice issues in The Falls by juxtaposing Niagara Falls’ simultaneous awe and malevolence with the toxic basement seepage and human health disasters at Love Canal. Class conflicts, community marginalization, and insider/outsider politics are obvious touchstones in the text, as she adroitly depicts the difficulty of establishing “causation” of sickness and death in both legal and cultural discourses surrounding the incident. But perhaps most provocatively, Oates interrogates the difficult balance her characters must strike between social activism and the care of family, a maneuvering that ultimately unhinges her characters psychologically and results in unmitigated, symbolically rich tragedy.
Gibbs, Lois. “‘What is Your Wife Trying to Do—Shut Down the Chemical Industry?’: The Housewives of Love Canal.” The Politics of Motherhood: Activist Voices from Left to Right. Eds. Alexis Jetter, Annelise Orleck, and Diane Taylor. Hanover and London: UP of New England, 1997. 28-43.
In this inspiring, at times darkly comic account of how she inadvertently rallied the neighborhood of Love Canal as a twenty-six year old housewife to demand compensation for the poisoning of herself and her children from state and corporate interests, Lois Gibbs gives us a personal, “non-expert” oral history. While her narrative as a whole is interesting from an environmental justice standpoint for obvious reasons, it also evidences two points that deal with the kidns of value-shifting and cultural constructions that literary critics are interested in. She recounts how she overcame her introspective nature to combat patriarchal state interests that dismissed her as an “irate, hysterical housewife” (38), and discusses how fallout from the Love Canal incident led to increased stress in the marriages of the mostly traditional families that had weathered the toxic storm, as housewives gained agency and control over their community, leading to gender conflict within households.
Compiled by Kenny Walker
Gaskell, Elizabeth. North and South. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. Print.
Gaskell’s 1855 novel about a young Margaret Hale who moves to the northern industrial town of Milton and quickly sympathizes with the discontented Mill Workers, yet also finds herself attracted to the mill owner, John Thornton. The title is taken from the novels contrast between a southern agrarian town and a northern industrial mill town, and emphasizes the social and cultural differences between the two geographies. Highly praised for its complex representation of gender, class, markets, power, and resistance in Mid-Victorian England, many of the themes of this novel deals with the struggle for a healthy environment in which to work, live, play, and worship.
Gaye, Marvin. “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology).” Perf. Marvin Gaye. The Very Best of Marvin Gaye. Motown Records, 2001. CD.
In 1971 Marvin Gaye released the album What’s Going On. The song Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology) soon hit #1 on the R&B charts and #4 on the pop charts. With lyrics that detail the dangers of toxic industrial pollution in the early 1970’s, and primarily direct themselves toward the Motown urban audience, this song is a small testament to the universal concerns for a healthy environment. Layered with piano, bongo drums, rhythmic guitar, a chorus of background soul singers, and a lyrical saxophone lead, Gaye captured the early sounds of environmental justice.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin, 2002. Print.
Steinbeck’s classic depression novel about the Joad family migration to California describes the struggle that millions of immigrants went through to find a healthy environment. Partly a tale of human tragedy, and partly a tale of environmental catastrophe, novels like this challenge the assumption that we are able to create and maintain healthy environments, but also challenge our ability to deal justly with refugees. Given our current concerns about global warming and “environmental refugees” novels like this could anticipate issues of justice and environments as issues of survival and resistance.