TOM SPRINGER is an essayist, journalist, and environmentalist. He has written about nature and outdoor travel for newspapers and magazines such as Backpacker, Michigan Out-of-Doors, andNotre Dame, and his nature-themed commentaries have aired on several National Public Radio programs. His collection of essays, Looking For Hickories: The Forgotten Wildness of the Rural Midwest (University of Michigan Press), was named a Michigan Notable Book in 2009. Springer holds a master’s degree in environmental journalism from Michigan State University. He lives near Three Rivers, Michigan.
He’ll also be speaking at the upcoming Jot Writers’ Conference (9.9.16) so I thought I would ask him a few questions about writing creative nonfiction.
What’s an important skill a writer should possess if they want to write creative nonfiction?
A good nonfiction writer should know a little about everything and a lot about something. In other words, be a generalist — an omnivorous reader with many interests — but have also one area where you specialize. It could be sustainable agriculture, jazz music, infectious diseases, contemplative prayer or astronomy. Whatever. The point here is to communicate your passion and knowledge in a way that’s enlightening, without being too technical. Nonfiction writers should introduce people to other worlds in a way that’s accessible and makes them want to learn more.
Who are your favorite essay writers and why? Who should we be reading?
My preferences tend toward essayists who focus on the intersect between people and the natural world. The seminal essayist for me is Aldo Leopold, whose deceptively short and simple “A Sand County Alamanac,” established the field of ecology and the impetus for the environmental movement. I also like Scott Russell Sanders, whose essays combine memoir and natural history, with a strong sense of community and place-based work (carpentry, agriculture, homemaking). For beauty and evocative writing, I’d recommend Barbara Kingsolver, a novelist whose nonfiction work resonates with the same literary qualities as her fiction does.
Give us a teaser of your Jot Conference talk. What can attendees expect?
During my session, we will discuss my basic formula for writing a personal essay: facts + firsthand experience + “wisdom synthesis.” If someone in the crowd is willing, we will on the spot take an excerpt of knowledge and experience from their life and shaped into an outline for an essay. Also, there will be free homemade cookies.