Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit was born in California in 1961.  The essayist and historian worked as a museum researcher and editor and since 1988 has been a freelance writer. In her essays she traces thematic junctions in art and cultural history and establishes detailed parallels with the direct present and contemporary political activism. Her knowledgeable and courageous work has been compared with that of Susan Sontag.

The topos of landscape and its cultural significance serves as a point of departure in many of Solnit’s essays.  In 1994 ‘Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West’ was published. Part travelogue, part historical synopsis, and part meditative landscape contemplation, the book explores a present in which the nuclear wars that were supposed to be in the future and the Indian Wars that were supposed to be in the past are both going on in the present.  ‘Wanderlust’ (2000), Solnit’s most well-known book to date, will be published in German translation in 2007.  This cultural history of walking is, in the author’s own words, concerned with: “walking as a cultural activity, from the peripatetic philosophers of ancient Greece to the contemporary paleontological arguments about bipedal evolution, from an aesthetic pleasure in eighteenth-century England to the growth of politically active walking clubs at the turn of the century and the birth of the outdoor industry and climbing gyms, as well as histories of the rise and fall of urban walking as a pleasure, pedestrian uprisings, and the gender politics of public space.” The following year, Solnit presented a melancholy topography of San Francisco in ‘Hollow City’ (2001).  This study, accompanied by photographic essays, documents how the wealth this city inherited from the computer industry has led to a loss of urban diversity.  The essays in her volume ‘Hope in the Dark’ (2004) are at once optimistic and out for a fight.  Here Solnit with a combative and emboldening appeal reacts against the climate of disappointment and weariness widely felt by American intellectuals and activists, at the latest after George W. Bush’s reelection.  In her most recent work, ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost’ (2005), the author gathers together autobiographical essays which reflect on moments of uncertainty, doubt, loss, remembrance and desire.  Solnit represents the phenomenon of losing one’s way as a frightening yet also heartening condition of freedom.

Solnit was awarded the Lannan Literary Award for her work, and has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.  She is a columnist for the magazin ‘Orion’ and publishes regularly in the environmental magazine ‘Sierra’ as well as in art journals, museum catalogues and the website ‘tomdispatch.com’. The author, who is active in ecological and human rights issues, lives in San Francisco.

Translator: Michael Mundhenk

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