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American Birds: A Literary Companion

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As this beguiling literary companion demonstrates, bird watching offers an encounter with the ineffable, with the transcendence of song and flight, with fragile and evanescent beauty. Birds raise our sights, elevate our thoughts, even as they prompt an earthbound reckoning with their strange and mysterious otherness. Here literature professor and avid birder Andrew Rubenfeld, in collaboration with acclaimed writer Terry Tempest Williams, who provides a foreword, gathers evocative and surprising writings on birds and our fascination with them from an astonishing array of American poets and writers. The result is a literature of singular depth and beauty, with occasional flights of fancy in the mix.

Experience the exquisite beauty of Native American songs about birds. Accompany Lewis and Clark as they encounter new species, Audubon as he sketches near New Orleans, and Emerson and Thoreau birding together around Walden Pond. Delight in Sarah Orne Jewett’s poignant tale of a snowy egret in the Maine woods and Florence Merriam’s portrait of a winter wren in Central Park. Join Rachel Carson as she watches skimmers along the Atlantic coast and Roger Tory Peterson observing snail kites in the Everglades. And thrill to an impressive roster of modern and contemporary poets, including Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Sterling A. Brown, Cornelius Eady, Mary Oliver, Linda Hogan, Louise Erdrich, and David Tomas Martinez, as they evoke the magic and haunting beauty of America’s birds.

Celebrating our ardent engagement with the wondrous creatures around and above us, this dazzling collection is a one-of-a-kind field guide to the American literary imagination.

Andrew Rubenfeld is professor of literature at Stevens Institute of Technology where he teaches courses on American nature and environmental writing. He has served as president of the Linnaean Society of New York, the nation’s second oldest ornithological and conservation organization, and is a founding member of the Birders’ Coalition for Gateway, to restore the Jamaica Wildlife Refuge following Hurricane Sandy.

Terry Tempest Williams is the award-winning author of numerous books, including Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, When Women Were Birds, and Erosion: Essays of Undoing. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she is currently the Writer-in-Residence at the Harvard Divinity School, dividing her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Castle Valley, Utah.

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