Andrea Clark Mason is a writer and writing educator living in Denver, Colorado. Her work has appeared in Outside Magazine, High Country News, Alaska Magazine, Modern In Denver, Permafrost, Weber: the Contemporary West, High Desert Journal, and elsewhere.
How did you begin working with/in response to natural environments?
One of the things that drew me to graduate school at University of Idaho is that I’ve always felt a powerful connection with the natural world. I wrote mostly short stories until the end of my second year of grad school. It was a 3-year program, and in my second year, I felt really burned out. I just wanted to go somewhere and write, so I applied to artist coloniees, and I got accepted to the Sacatar Foundation in Brazil. I was working on a novel set in southern Florida about the natural world. One thing I wrote while there was an imitation of a piece of the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, and that piece was so important to me, so I wrote an essay about the atmosphere of Brazil. Here’s a quick equation for those who want to write about atmosphere: setting + emotion = atmosphere.
That essay was my breakthrough piece. It was about spending 9-11 at this colony, about being a white woman in that place, and how the place is a contradiction: there were armed guards everywhere in this natural paradise. That piece, "The Inaccessible Sun," was published in the Gettysburg Review, to my surprise. This was the first place I sent it, and it was my first publication, all of which gave me confidence to keep writing. After that I went to a residency in the Florida Everglades. I planned to finish the novel, but instead I had all these experiences, took tons of notes, and ended up writing an essay that was really the culmination of everything I’d experienced and learned about the Everglades. So it was a process. I loved landscape, but I didn’t really know how to access it. And my accessing it came from a very personal point-of-view—feeling incredibly vulnerable on a personal level and physcially and psychically. And the contrast with it being this gorgeous place.
Share with us one of your favorite creative pieces and the natural environment it responds to.
That Everglades essay--"Gladeswoman"--is still one of my favorites. It is about me thinking I was writing this novel but really I was falling in love with this ecosystem. Part of that process was I wasn’t setting myself up to write a startling essay. Instead I was putting pressure on myself to finish a novel. So, in retrospect, I learned that I had to be open to what kind of art or writing would evolve, to let the landscape and the process guide me. It’s the same as with my essay about Brazil. These things that I thought were distractions from my writing process, like local men catcalling me on the beach, were actually part of my experience. Part of me becoming the writer I am today is being open to whatever’s happening, to the environment, taking lots of notes, and not being afraid to say: this thing I spent so much time on isn’t really working, and this other thing is what’s important.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to co-create with the natural world?
I’d say pay attention to what happens to your material over time. Understand what that material is trying to say to you. I feel the same way about the natural environment. It’s getting to know a place and getting past your preconceptions of what it is and actually knowing it so well that you can write about it.
Check out Andrea's essay about the Florida Everglades, "Gladeswoman"
Listen to Andrea read part of "Gladeswoman"
Image info: 1: DJ Lee; 2 Chauncey Davis