Why We Chose World of Wonders

Indiana Humanities is thrilled to announce the selection of Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments as our 2022 One State / One Story statewide read selection.

Indiana Humanities is thrilled to announce the selection of Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments as our 2022 One State / One Story statewide read selection. Throughout the year, we’ll have opportunities for Hoosiers to come together to read, discuss and discover Nezhukumatathil’s amazing collection of 28 short essays celebrating the natural world and all its wonders.

Nezhukumatathil is an accomplished poet, with four previous collections to her name, and poetry infuses World of Wonders. Her love of language and skill with the written word allows her to represent the wonders of nature which defy easy depiction. Her descriptions move 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”). These clever descriptions are further supplemented by beautiful illustrations by Fumi Mini Nakamura throughout the book.

To consider: the ambiguous smile of the axolotyl, the repulsive scent of the corpse flower, the stunning blue of a peacock, the flickering of fireflies, the dangerous claw of a cassowary. Nezhukumatathil’s collection is full of the wondrous in the more-than-human world, finding beauty and appreciation in unexpected creatures. Nezhukumatathil’s collection asks us what wonder, appreciation or connection with the natural world can do to change our attitudes and actions toward it. In reflecting on an octopus, she 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.”Through her wonder at what exists, readers also wonder at what may be lost.

Nezhukumatathil’s collection is more than mere documentation of the earth’s vast wonders; it is also a record of her own experience as a woman of color living in America. With every entry, Nezhukumatathil connects her experiences— from love and motherhood to xenophobia and racism—with the creatures and plant-life she wonders about. Throughout the collection, Nezhukumatathil deftly moves between beautiful depictions of the more-than-human and her own experiences, encouraging readers to think through the connections they’ve discovered with the natural world, and what ones might yet be unearthed.

We encourage Hoosiers across the state to pick up World of Wonders to connect and reflect upon the natural world and find your own wonders in Indiana’s landscapes. Non-profit organizations in Indiana can apply to host a Community Read as part of One State / One Story. Through the Community Read program, organizations receive funding and programming support to design and host a series of three events. To learn more about the Community Read program and how to bring the opportunity your community, you can attend an informational webinar on August 26 at 2 p.m. EDT. Applications to host a Community Read will be open through October 1, 2021.

To learn more about World of Wonders and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, read her interview with Indiana poet Ross Gay.