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Erin Stalcup

Erin Stalcup is also the author of the story collection And Yet It Moves (Indiana University Press, 2016). Erin received her MFA from Warren Wilson College’s Program for Writers. Erin’s fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Kenyon Review Online, The Sun, and elsewhere, and her nonfiction about her teaching experiences was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2016. You can read some of her other work at erinstalcup.com.

Blurbs

"Bird as beast. Bird as beauty. Bird as spectacle. In Every Living Species, Stalcup looks zoological impoverishment in the eye and refuses to blink. Instead, she turns loss into an exhibition of World's Fair proportions, concentrating her mad microcosm with biotechnology, infrastructure, art, and humanity. In this world, multiculturalism is as much a revolution as it is a climate change adaptation. In this confluence, I recognize Hitchcock and Hurston, Crichton and KUbler-Ross--and in Stalcup, an aviphile of the highest order."

– Lawrence Lenhart, author of The Well-Stocked and Gilded Cage

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Every Living Species

Permission to Hope: Every Living Species by Erin Stalcup

03/09/18

Erin Stalcup’s Every Living Species was included in “What to Read When it’s been a Hell of a Year” in The Rumpus as a book that “might set a fountain of radical hope a-burble inside you.” And yet, when I began reading the book it had been so long since I felt hopeful that I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe the radical hope fountain within me could even be found, let alone set to bubbling. I’m pleased to say I was wrong. Somehow, while reading this book, my hope fountain flourished and even burbled—radical and glorious (and quite possibly purple).

The narrative weaves the voices and stories of various perspectives involved in the creation and visitation of the Birds of the World Timed Birding Contest exhibition brought to us by Canon and Cabela’s—a domed enclosure manufactured to hold every species of bird in the world. The perspectives in the book were wonderfully diverse, even including a chapter exploring the point of view of a rebel-spirited bird, brilliantly enough. The novel focuses mainly on the narratives of Arrow and Ivan Ríos. Arrow, a purple-haired young woman from Flagstaff, Arizona is participating in the birding contest with her father, while Ivan Ríos, creator of a Hitchcockian-ish film involving the rise of zombie Passenger Pigeons is participating with fashion designer Alistair Askgold.

Arrow’s story, in particular, captured my attention as she struggled with the loss of much of her family land after a fire and the realization she is pregnant during a time when her child will likely have to contend with extreme environmental catastrophe such as the end of the planet’s viability to support human life. However, while Arrow’s story resonated most deeply, the thoughtful depiction of diverse perspectives interspersed throughout the novel widened the scope of the story as these voices combined to give understanding, compassion, space, love, and respect to every living species—bird, bush, tree, and human being.

I gravitated toward Arrow more than the other characters in the book simply because we had more in common. Like Arrow, I began the novel in a space of hopelessness, unsure of my place in the world. In many ways, Arrow is nothing like me, but the way she goes about describing the world she lives in, the attention to detail she pays, and the absolute wonder she finds in the flora and fauna of the world reminded me of the wonder of my childhood. Arrow pays attention to what’s around her. She loves the land she grew up on with a fierceness that is difficult to match, though I certainly hope that I might rise to the occasion. I could taste, touch, and especially smell the world Stalcup rendered. I was transported back to a childhood spent with the places and plants Arrow describes. Places I mapped as a barefoot child running about the forests of the Rocky Mountains and the low desert of Arizona. I felt as if I were at home while I read, though I could also never forget neither Arrow nor I were really in a natural space. Instead, we were in a giant dome full of fake sky. Still, when Arrow pressed her nose against the trunk of a ponderosa pine to inhale vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, cupcake, or sugar cookie, I could feel the rough reddish bark scrape the skin of nostrils. I could feel the ache in my lungs as I chased my grandmother along the dirt road of her neighborhood street lined in ponderosas. And then, just as quickly, I was in the desert I grew up in, hunting for birds or anything else I might find, avoiding fallen cactus bits that might spike my bare toes. Though when I read the book, I was sitting on a futon in Ohio, I could still feel the slender waxy crush of creosote between two fingers, transferring the scent of rain onto my fingerprints.

Hope is the not the emotion I expected when finishing this book, but it came anyhow. As the characters in this book chose love, as Arrow chose hope, I found myself thinking I could join them. I could choose. I have a choice. When I put down this book, for the first time in a while, I felt I was being given permission to make a hopeful choice, even if that choice was simply allowing myself to feel hopeful in the midst of environmental strife and climate change. I am reminded of a quote from Robert MacFarlane’s Landmarks: “Language is fundamental to the possibility of re-wonderment, for language does not just register experience, it produces it.” This novel is absolutely an experience of re-wonderment. Stalcup has intertwined political concerns with stunning descriptions of setting, diverse characters, powerful voice, and her own sense of wonder to tell a story that is bold, beautiful, and above all hopeful. I am left with a sense that even amidst our own fraught climate we may yet manage to make this world as beautiful as we hope it could be.

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