Jenna Butler realized early, that living on and writing about the land would be an important aspect of her life. Butler is a travel and eco-criticism writer as well as an academic writer and professor. Not only is she a writer and teacher, but she and her husband have built an off-grid organic farm. In addition to everything she has done in Canada and Alberta, she has also lived, written and taught in many places around the world, all adding up to incredible experiences and inspirations.
Q: How did your childhood and your time in the Norfolk village of Forncett St. Peter influence your writing today?
A: I left England while I was still very young. My parents moved to Toronto first to look after my mother’s parents and then to Alberta following my grandfather’s death. I guess I’d say my birth country and the small village we lived in during my early years mostly impacted me in the sense that I’ve always missed knowing home. Being born and spending my early years in a rural area also cemented the desire in me to live outside big cities, and that desire to live on/write about the land is a focus in both my literary and academic writing.
Q: Why did you choose to become a writer of eco-criticism?
A: Writing is something I’ve always felt was in my blood — it was my identity since I was a child and started publishing at the age of 6. So, I never questioned that “writer” was who I was, not what I did. It was an innate knowing. I was fortunate enough in my early twenties to have had an excellent writing teacher who pushed me hard while creating an environment that was respectful and in which I felt I could accept the challenge of that push. Writing about and living on the land have evolved in tandem for me. As my husband and I built our farm, I was writing about the complicated process of creating home/belonging and that moved into literary and academic ruminations on the complexity of place and our impacts, as humans, on the places we call home.
Q: I noticed that you have spent a lot of time writing and working abroad. Which location or posting has influenced your writing the most and why did it have such an impact?
A: I’ve been very fortunate to have received writing fellowships around the world. I think the place that has had the strongest impact on me has been the time I spent in the Norwegian Arctic. It was over the summer solstice, and the light was both incredibly consistent and brutally surreal — there was no place you could go to escape the light. And the land was incredibly resonant for me — there was so much beauty, but you had to look very closely to find it. Tiny Arctic flowers. Bleached bones. The shades of minerals and rocks. The quality of the shadows on snow. Looking for that beauty is part of my daily practice; I think that comes from living on the land through all seasons. You have to be able to find what sustains you, spiritually, even through the very long, dark months. The Arctic really drove that home to me, that difficult beauty. I valued it more for having worked for it.