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Interview | Natasha Kassulke

What brought you to write this book?

When my coauthor and I get to talking, we often find ourselves wandering down a road of topics ranging from what we are observing phenologically on the family farm to environmental stories topping the news. During those discussions, I sometimes becoming frustrated that our environmental challenges seem insurmountable with action stalled by politics or emphasis on financial gain at all cost. What brought us to write the book, I think, is hope that just because it is that way, doesn’t mean that has to stay that way. I am hopeful that while our environmental issues are complex and numerous, we share the same planet and with that, literally common ground. I believe that with that grounding, we have a starting point for conversation and reflection. I am inspired by my students and my coworkers -- brilliant minds doing brilliant research. I am in awe by our problem solvers and even more so, by our artists and our dreamers. We love spending time in nature and strongly believe we have a responsibility to protect the environment so that future generations can also know that joy. To that end, we believe critical and creative thinking can inform action to address our environmental challenges – some that are really crises. We are excited to share how we reached that conclusion through our experiences and our research, and to invite our readers to join is in making positive changes for the environment, be those actions big or small.

How has your work in journalism and teaching inspired your personal writing?

I’ve learned the value of including diverse voices in storytelling. I believe my writing is stronger when I have done my homework – researched and reached out to a variety of sources. I also have learned to listen and to let others speak. My favorite stories to write are those that make a real human connection between the subject and the reader.

What have you learned from teaching?

I enjoy hearing various perspectives from my students and they challenge me in positive ways. I like to revise my curriculum to integrate lessons I’ve gleaned from my student’s experiences both in and out of the classroom. I’ve also learned that there are many barriers to learning and access to education. I’ve learned that, like environmental issues, education is complex and comes with great challenges at all levels. I think we can employ some of the advice presented in our book to enacting positive change in areas such education.

What do you see as the most urgent environmental threat our world faces today?

Climate change for its far reaching impacts across species, geographies, cultures and more tops my list.

Who or what inspires you?

People like Jane Goodall and Greta Thunberg inspire me. While of different generations and life experiences, they are both thoughtful, visionary, and courageous. They not only use their voices, but use critical and creative thinking to drive action. I’m also inspired by the selfless heroes who walk among us – our veterans, health care workers, educators, those in the service industries, the volunteers, journalists, and the front line workers. And I am awed by artists like Banksy, an England-based street artist, political activist and film director; and Tom Morello, llead guitarist of one of the most politically vocal and active bands of all time, Rage Against the Machine, and a comic book writer.

What advice would you give to someone who might be interested in writing and/or journalism?

Be curious and seek the truth. To do that, seek reputable sources of information. Strive to be trustworthy. Your byline is your reputation. I like to teach that there is a difference between writing about a topic and telling story. Be a storyteller -- paint a picture for your readers. Help them think and feel – to laugh, cry, prepare for their day or be moved to an action. I believe your published writing should have purpose rather than merely gratifying for you as the writer. That’s for a diary.

What are some of your favorite books? And what are you reading currently?

I keep going back to Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway was a novelist, but also a journalist. He valued every word and did not use fluff. He is rumored to once having won a bar challenge to write a novel in six words or less. His novel: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. I have my students write six word novels to practice making every word count. I’m also drawn to books like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a 1969 autobiography describing the young and early years of American writer and poet Maya Angelou. I am inspired by stories of overcoming trauma.

I am currently reading my co-author’s new book, Jerry Apps’ More Than Words: A Memoir of a Writing Life (November 2022). I hope to learn how to be a better storyteller from reading about his own joys and frustrations on his journey to becoming a renowned writer.

What’s on your writing playlist (or on repeat)?

I love this question because it refers to a playlist and that makes me think of music. I love a variety of music genres and am a sucker for powerful lyrics that capture feeling and reflect the times. Music can be poetry. I am not a poet and have great respect for those who are. I love the creative format music provides and its power to bring together. Lyrics can challenge our beliefs and move us to change our behaviors. I regret that I never saw Bob Marley concert, but can imagine the sense of unity he created along with the audience in unison singing “One Love.” The lyrics to John Lennon’s “Imagine” get me every time. Songs, like novels, tell stories. Lyrics trigger emotions and memories, and sometimes they inspire social change.

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