The outdoor world has a tradition of telling adventure stories with similar themes: big accomplishments, epic quests, and finding yourself in nature. But historically, those narratives have been written in general by men, and white men in particular. Although at times, the stories of the outdoor world can feel overwhelmingly white and male, that’s not the whole picture, and the literature is slowly starting to reflect that. Here are some of our favorite book about quests, outdoor epics, and people’s relationships with the outdoors that come from different perspectives.
James Edward Mills, who runs The Joy Trip Project, was part of the first all-African-American team to climb Alaska’s highest peak, Denali, in 2013. In telling the story of that trip he also outlines other black explorers, like Mathew Henson one of the first people to go to the North Pole, to climbing phenom Kai Lightner, and how they’ve fought for their place in the outdoor world. He weaves together narrative and history to show the gaps in diversity in the current outdoor world.
Native American writer Leslie Mormon Silko is known for her novels, like “Ceremony” which tells the story of a Laguna Pueblo man returning home to the reservation after war, but her memoir, “The Turquoise Ledge,” which is about her relationship with Arizona and her family’s history there, is just as powerful, and beautifullly written.
Ultrarunner Mirna Valerio, who was just named as a National Geographic Explorer of the Year, is a role model. She’s one of the loudest, boldest, brightest voices for bringing diversity to the skinny, white world of trail running. Her new book “A Beautiful Work in Progress” which is about her experience being a fat, black ultrarunner, gives you insight into her voice, the barriers she’s had to face, and her positive attitude and sense of humor through it.
In this collection of essays that explore relationships with race, place, and how the two are connected, scholar Lauret Savoy traces her own history of relationships with landscapes, and her mixed-race family’s move around the country. She weaves in geology, history and more to unpack the idea of a trace as both a trail you follow and something that remains. It leans toward the academic side of things, but it asks hard, important questions.
Writer Ellen Meloy’s husband was a river ranger who spent his summer on Utah’s Green River. She traveled with him, and her book about their life on the river, “Raven’s Exile,” is one of the most beautiful, funniest, clear-eyed books about human’s relationships with the natural world ever written. The section about windstorms, and the pain of getting sand in your underwear, will have you laughing into your book.
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