“You Just Have to Read This…”: Books by Wesleyan Authors Coggins ’85, P’15, ’22, Gumbiner ’11, and LaBennett ’94

Sarah ParkeApril 23, 20247min
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In this continuing series, we review alumni books and offer a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Memorial Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

In honor of Earth Month, this edition of YJHTRT highlights stories and subjects of climate change, nature conservation, environmentalism.

Chris Coggins ’85, P’15, ’22 (with Bixia Chen), Sacred Forests of Asia: Spiritual Ecology and the Politics of Nature Conservation (Routledge)

Explore the history and cultural relevance of the sacred forests of Asia by engaging with new scholarly dialogues on the nature of sacred space, place, landscape, and ecology in the context of the sharply contested ideas of the Anthropocene.

Given the vast geographic range of sacred groves in Asia, the authors discuss the diversity of associated cosmologies, ecologies, traditional local resource management practices, and environmental governance systems developed during the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial periods. Readers will find the very first systematic comparative analysis of sacred forests that include the karchall mabhuy of the Katu people of Central Vietnam; the leuweng kolot of the Baduy people of West Java; the fengshui forests of southern China; the groves to the goddess Sarna Mata worshiped by the Oraon people of Jharkhand, India; the mauelsoop and bibosoop of Korea; and many more. Using in-depth, field-based case studies, each chapter shows how the forest’s sacrality must not be conceptually delinked from its roles in common property regimes, resource security, spiritual matters of ultimate concern, and cultural identity.

Chris Coggins is professor of geography and Asian studies at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. He is editor and author of Mapping Shangrila: Contested Landscapes in the Sino-Tibetan Borderlands (2014, with Emily Ting Yeh); The Tiger and the Pangolin: Nature, Culture, and Conservation in China (2003); and The Primates of China: Biogeography and Conservation Status—Past, Present, and Future (2002).

Daniel Gumbiner ’11, Fire in the Canyon (Astra House)

A New Yorker Best Book of 2023 and California Book Award Finalist, Fire in the Canyon is an intimate look at the lives of those already living through the climate crisis.

Since his release from prison after serving an 18-month sentence for growing cannabis, Ben Hecht’s life has settled into a familiar routine on his farm in the foothills of California. He stays busy cultivating a dozen acres of grapes and tending to a flock of mistrustful sheep. His novelist wife, Ada, continues to work on what may be her most important book yet.

When their only son, Yoel, comes home from Los Angeles for a rare visit, Ben is forced to confront their long-troubled relationship, which has continued to degrade in recent years. But before the two of them can truly address their past, a wildfire sweeps through the region, forcing the Hecht family to flee to the coast, and setting into motion a chain of events that will transform them all. This is a story about grape growing and wine, financial and familial struggles, and the peculiar characters and unlikely heroes one will always find in small-town California.

Daniel Gumbiner’s first book, The Boatbuilder, was nominated for the National Book Award and a finalist for the California Book Awards. He is the editor of The Believer and a 2022–23 Hermitage Fellow. He lives in Oakland, CA.

Oneka LaBennett ’94, Global Guyana: Shaping Race, Gender, and Environment in the Caribbean and Beyond (NYU Press)

Previously ranked among the hemisphere’s poorest countries, Guyana, a country in South America’s North Atlantic coast, is becoming a global leader in per capita oil production, a shift which promises to profoundly transform the nation.

Drawing from archival research and oral history and examining mass-mediated flashpoints across the African and Indian diasporas―including Rihanna’s sonic routes, ethnic conflict reportage, HBO’s Lovecraft Country, and Netflix’s Indian MatchmakingGlobal Guyana repositions this marginalized nation as a nexus of social and economic activity which drives popular culture and ideas about sexuality while reshaping the geopolitical and literal topography of the Caribbean region. Author Oneka LaBennett illuminates how both oil extraction and sand export are implicated in a well-established practice of pillaging the Caribbean’s natural resources while masking the ecological consequences that disproportionately affect women and children. Ecological erosion and gendered violence are entrenched in extractive industries emanating from this often-effaced but pivotal country. LaBennett hopes to sound the alarm on the portentous repercussions that ambitious development spells out for the nation’s people and its geographical terrain, issuing a warning to all of us about the looming threat of global environmental calamity.

Oneka LaBennett is associate professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, and Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Southern California. She’s the author of She’s Mad Real: Popular Culture and West Indian Girls in Brooklyn and co-editor of Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century.