2017 Hay Festival INSPIRE Lecture on Literature and Sustainability: Interactions and Connections announced


The beautiful relationship that connects and inspires writers, musicians, and scientists with the common starling will be explored by ecoactive’s rachel dowse when she presents her work at the 2017 hay festival inspire lecture on literature and sustainability: interactions and connections.

Jane Davidson Hay Festival

The annual Institute for Sustainable Practice, Innovation and Resource Effectiveness (INSPIRE) Lecture is organised by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) and the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, UK & Ireland (ASLE-UK). This year’s lecture takes place at the Good Energy Stage on Thursday 1 June, at 7pm.

The INSPIRE lecture is competition-based and aims to showcase research which explores the relationship between literature and the sustainability debate. The judging panel invited submissions that explore how literature, in any of its forms, responds to and is shaped by our capacity to know the natural world in the context of debates around sustainability.

Rachel Dowse has been chosen as the 2017 winner. Her paper entitled, ‘Starling Song: Murmurations of Meaning’ has been selected by academics from UWTSD and ASLE-UKI, who were “unanimous in their decision.”

Rachel has a BA in English Literature from the University of Sussex and a MA in Wild Writing: Literature and the Environment from the University of Essex. She has spent 6 months as a Volunteer Trainee Warden on Flat Holm Island in the Bristol Channel, and a year as a Volunteer Officer at Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park. She currently works for ecoACTIVE, a small environmental education charity based in Hackney. She has been published in Earthlines and The Island Review. Rachel, who currently lives in East London, is interested in linking practical conservation with academic studies of literature and the environment. She has spoken at several conferences.

Often overlooked, taken for granted, and sometimes even shooed away from our bird tables, the common starling is, as Rachel Dowse will show in her illustrated talk, a beautiful and inspiring bird with a long cultural and linguistic heritage. From Aristotle and Pliny, through Mozart and the Mabinogion, to Peter Coates and Robert Macfarlane, the starling has inspired writers, musicians, and scientists alike. Rachel’s fascinating talk leads us through this rich history and invites us all to take another look at the not-so-common starling.

The lecture will be followed by a public discussion between Rachel, Dr Jane Davidson, UWTSD Pro Vice-Chancellor for Sustainability and Engagement, Director of INSPIRE and former Welsh Government Minister for Sustainability, and Professor Brycchan Carey, Chair of ASLE-UKI.

Dr Davidson said: “Each year, it is an enormous pleasure to engage with talented artists interested in nature and the environment who bring us new understandings due to their exceptional facility with words. The competition enables Hay visitors to witness the extraordinary talent that lies in our universities and create an opportunity for new understandings. I'm really looking forward to exploring what lies behind this year's winning lecture with a Festival audience.”

In the five years since the competition was launched, previous winners have addressed how re-reading Shakespeare through a sustainability lens can unearth fascinating insights into the way we used to live and inform our ideas for the future; they have explored how Nature Writing has adapted to our new environmental concerns and ecological perspectives in our post-colonial globalized economy and looked at the importance of inter-related ecosystems remaining in balance. The competition has demonstrated unequivocally that stories for change can play a crucially important in re-interpreting our world for the benefit of future generations.

Brycchan Carey, Chair of ASLE-UKI, and Professor of English Literature at Kingston University said: “Rachel Dowse is an exciting new nature writer with a keen eye for bird behaviour and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the literature and culture of the everyday birds we so often take for granted. ‘Starling Song’ will delight anyone interested in literature, nature, or both.

Note to Editor

INSPIRE (Institute of Sustainable Practice, Innovation and Resource Effectiveness) at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David is directed by Dr Jane Davidson. INSPIRE is a key component in the University’s mission to embed sustainability into its own practices and to provide its students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will equip them for their future contribution to the economy, community and environment. INSPIRE @ UWTSD won the 2013 Guardian award for the most effective sustainability initiative in higher education in the UK, the 2014 Soil Association Gold Award for its support for local producers and in 2015, UWTSD rose up from 113th in the People and Planet University League to 8th in the UK and 1st in Wales.

The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, UK & Ireland (ASLE-UKI) was founded in 1998. Its aim is to represent and support scholars and writers, in the Atlantic archipelago and beyond,who are interested in the environment and its expression in the cultural imagination.

ASLE-UKI’s current chair is Brycchan Carey, a Professor of English Literature at Kingston University in London. His most recent monograph was From Peace to Freedom: Quaker Rhetoric and the Birth of American Antislavery, 1658–1761 (Yale University Press, 2012). And his most recent collection, Quakers and Abolition, co-edited with Geoffrey Plank, was published by The University of Illinois Press in 2014. He is currently writing a book on the relationship between slavery and natural history as well as co-editing books on Early Caribbean Literary Histories (with Nicole Aljoe and Tom Krise) and Birds in Eighteenth-Century Culture (with Sayre Greenfield and Anne Milne)

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