With Indiana Humanities’ 2022 statewide read, Hoosiers are encouraged to explore together the natural world and the ways we intersect with it.
In World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, New York Times best-selling author and poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil considers flora and fauna both exotic and familiar to illuminate the deep-rooted and often delicate relationships humans have with nature.
Through these examinations, she also addresses the human life, including her own experiences as a child of the Midwest, a woman of color, a mother, a product of an immigrant family and more, as a way to shed light on how the natural world can give insights into our own experiences.
“World of Wonders has a remarkable way of speaking back to us the wonder we feel when we truly allow ourselves to connect with nature,” said Keira Amstutz, Indiana Humanities president and CEO. “Whether she’s describing something as familiar as fireflies on a tree line at dusk or as exotic as a whale shark swimming inches from her face, Nezhukumatathil shares the experience in ways that connect us to her, to nature and to each other.”
Amstutz continued, “This is why World of Wonders was selected for the statewide read in conjunction with Indiana Humanities’ Unearthed initiative: It urges Hoosiers to discover and discuss their relationships with the natural world.”
Throughout the year, Indiana Humanities will offer opportunities for Hoosiers to come together to read, discuss and discover this collection of 28 short essays by Nezhukumatathil, an accomplished poet with four previous collections to her name.
Nezhukumatathil’s love of language and skill with the written word allows her to represent wonders of nature that usually defy description. From the depths of the ocean, where the vampire squid looks for a “meal of marine snow” and the ribbon eel “unspools itself, as if a piece of ribbon candy has unfolded and softened in the sea,” to the “tender and electric dress” of the firefly or the sound of cactus wrens (“a small motor revving up the morning quiet”), Nezhukumatathil shares observations of and through the natural world.
These observations, complemented by illustrations by Fumi Mini Nakamura, also address the peril that can exist in our intersections with nature. For example, in an essay about the octopus, Nezhukumatathil’s writes, “I am certain it knows we humans are messing up entirely, that in just a matter of decades the oceans will become unswimmable to any of us animals.” With such considerations, she points not only to what exists, but also what may be lost.
The product of a Filipina and Malayali Indian background, Nezhukumatathil was born in Chicago and earned bachelor’s and master of fine arts degrees from the Ohio State University. Now a professor of English and Creative Writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program, she has been published in the Best American Poetry Series, The New York Times Magazine, ESPN, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, and Tin House. She has received a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pushcart Prize, a Mississippi Arts Council grant, and being named a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry. In 2021, she became the first-ever poetry editor for SIERRA magazine, the story-telling arm of The Sierra Club.
To learn more about World of Wonders and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, read this interview between her and Indiana poet Ross Gay.
Funding and Program support available to Indiana communities
Non-profit organizations in Indiana can apply to host a Community Read of World of Wonders. As part of the Community Read program, organizations receive funding and programming support to design and host a series of three events. Additional details and an application can be found at www.indianahumanities.org/community-read-world-of-wonders. Interested individuals may also attend a webinar on Aug. 26 at 2 p.m. EDT to learn more about the Community Read program and how to get involved in One State / One Story.