FWF2020 Q&A: Inga Simpson

Inga Simpson speaks on Ecofeminism in our FWFTalks podcast series.
Inga is the author of Understory: a life with trees, which was shortlisted for the Adelaide Writers Week Award for Nonfiction, as well as the novels Where the Trees WereNest and Mr Wigg

Is there a moment you recall that shaped your own idea of feminism?

There were a few sparks at university, studying classic texts like A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft or Virginia Woolf’s essays. And I was challenged by a particular lecturer, who was also the first person to suggest I could write. But I was probably more occupied by my queer identity at the time. It wasn’t until I did a creative writing PhD, examining the origins of lesbian detective fiction, that I really understood the ways feminist crime writers had subverted hard-boiled detective fiction — and why. The penny finally dropped. Whether it was being a bit older, or motivated by researching my own writing project, queer theorists like Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adrienne Rich blew open my intellectual and creative mind.  

What do you mean when you talk about Ecofeminism?

For me it’s a set of interconnections: feminist and environmental, intellectual and activist, literature and science, nature and equality. Ecofeminism’s lesbian-feminist roots often has me daydreaming (and writing) about a hard-core bunch of women prepared to lay down their lives to save the planet. In reality, it’s women like Rachel Carson, the scientist and writer (Silent Spring, Under the Sea Wind) who alerted the world to the environmental impacts of chemicals and fertilisers, at great personal cost, who motivate me to keep going.

Today social inequality is understood more broadly, and its relationship to climate change. Disadvantaged groups are suffering disproportionally the impacts of climate change, further widening the gap. Climate action, therefore cannot be separated from social justice. In Australia, that includes justice for our first people.

In the FWFtalks Ecofeminism podcast you talk about a discomfort in writing about the land for non-Indigenous Australians — can you talk about that?

For non-Indigenous Australians it’s not possible to write authentically about our connection to a landscape without acknowledging the whole history of that place — and how we came to be here. Judith Wright described Australia as ‘a haunted country’, referring to her deep love for the land and a concomitant guilt about the violent dispossession of our first peoples, and the ongoing impacts of colonisation. For non-Indigenous writers, knowledge of this violence is uncomfortable, and our consciousness of Indigenous Australians’ 80,000 years of deep connection to country emphasises our lack of connection.

Wright also linked violence towards Indigenous Australians to the destruction of our natural environments, arguing that it stems from a state of mind that still imposes itself on the landscape, rather than living through it. Sixty years on, not much has changed. Australia can’t hope to tackle climate change or move forward as a nation until this is addressed. Senator Thorpe is very clear about what we all need to do in the Ecofeminism podcast.

How do you see your own gender politics intersecting with your nature writing?

The writer Peter Polites characterised Understory as eco-queer, which flattered and startled me at the time. Nature writing has for so long been dominated by male writers and northern landscapes that I was more conscious of writing as a woman and an Australian. It’s probably harder for me to see the queer lens on my own voice. But of course I bring who I am to my writing, along with everything I have read and studied.

It was reassuring to see the evolution from my early writing (lesbian detective fiction) to where I have ended up — rather than viewing them as independent.

My primary relationship is with the natural world. And my creativity — the two are linked. I don’t live my life separate from nature or see myself as above trees or other creatures. But most people do. That puts me at odds with most people! So perhaps eco-queer characterises my sexuality, too.

Book recommendations
Fathoms: the World in the Whale, Rebecca Giggs
Figuring, Maria Popova
Diary of a Young Naturalist, Dara McAnulty

Online recommendations
The Intelligence of Plants — a podcast with Robin Wall Kimmerer about listening to plant life and heeding the languages of the natural world.
Hope in Dark Times, Resisting the Defeatism of Easy Despair, and What Victory Really Means for Movements of Social Change — Maria Popova on Rebecca Solnit.
Singularity: Marie Howe’s Ode to Stephen Hawking, Our Cosmic Belonging, and the Meaning of Home, in a Stunning Animated Short Film — article by Maria Popova.

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