Reviewed by Arran Stibbe in Green Letters, published online on the 26th November 2014. This is an extract, and a link to the full text is provided at the end.
Storytelling for a Greener World: environment, community and story-based learning, edited by Alida Gersie, Anthony Nanson and Edward Schieffelin
Storytelling for a Greener World will take you places. It will take you to ‘the ancient rolling hills and rivers of Dartmoor’ where ‘a group of adults huddle on piles of sheepskins and cushions in a room lit by the soft light of candles’; to the countryside of Staffordshire where a group create a story based on the moss, twigs and mud around them; to a primary school in a run-down area of Gateshead where kittiwakes nest nearby; to the back room of a pub in Bath where a storytelling circle has met every month for 14 years; and to ‘a spot where a line of trees meet open meadows near a paddock’ for storytelling in the presence of a horse herd. This is a book about oral storytelling: ‘storytelling which happens face to face, eye to eye, gesture to gesture, voice to ear, heart to heart, and mind to mind, in one location by one person to one or more others’. It is designed not as a work of ecocriticism but as a practical guide for promoting reflective and innovative practice in facilitating storytelling groups. However, the book does, at its heart, explore an ecocritical question: how can contemporary UK storytelling inspire pro-environmental behaviour?
The answer to that question comes, not directly, but through the exploration of 21 contributors – all are storytellers, all are educators, trainers, facilitators, or consultants, and some are also poets, writers, artists, singers, musicians, historians and more. In 21 chapters, these contributors explore their own practice of using, sharing and creating stories with diverse groups of participants, in diverse locations, to bring about changes in outlook. The chapters provide anecdotes to illustrate the principles laid out in the introduction: that encouraging reflection, modelling interrelatedness through the ‘very dynamics of storymaking and oral storytelling’, stimulating ‘affective relationships with others and the more-than-human world’, encouraging both listening and responding and other oral storytelling activities ‘can directly lead to increases in people’s empathic capacity and pro-social and environmental behaviour’.
Storytelling for a Greener World offers a window onto an exciting area of analysis for ecocriticism: ‘texts’ created and received at the same moment, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart, in place, with all the potential for deep changes in outlook that this promises. Ecocriticism, likewise, offers something to storytellers – methods for interrogating the messages contained in the stories that they work with. There is something else though. The book claims that ‘sustainability involves a constant, thoughtful, and often fun interplay between people and the more-than-human world’ and provides a great variety of practical facilitation techniques to make that happen. These techniques could add an enticing new dimension to educational situations where students typically spend significant time reading written texts on their own, writing essays about them on their own, receiving written feedback on those essays and reading papers to an audience. This new dimension could help students develop the empathic responsiveness that arises from direct connection with other people, other species and place.