Donald Culross Peattie: Appalachian Nature Writer and Visionary

Donald Culross Peattie (1898-1964), American botanist, essayist and nature writer, was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and educated at Harvard. He is not generally regarded as an Appalachian writer. However, I plan to make the case that Peattie is, indeed, an important Appalachian figure, though his work has been largely overlooked by people working in the field of Appalachian Studies.

Peattie is best known for his magisterial, 600-page work, A Natural History of Trees... Ostensibly a tree identification book, the work is a collection of almost 200 exquisite short essays. Though it is not identified, on its face, as regional literature, many of the best pieces in the collection focus on Appalachia, including "American Chestnut," "Sourwood,""Persimmon," "Mountain Silverbell," "Cucumbertree," and others. Taken together, the essays form an extended narrative and meditation on what it is to be a naturalist and outsider, exploring Appalachia at the end of World War II, during a time of great regional upheaval and transition.

I'll show how Peattie's work is still relevant in Appalachia today. His critique of forest management policies was prescient. His prose retains a freshness and an immediacy for 21st century readers. And especially his tree essays provide engaging, fully formed, bite-sized chunks of prose that work well in college classrooms, where the goal is to teach Appalachian Studies and nature writing.

Note: If reviewers approve this presentation, please add to the already-submitted panel entitled "Contemporary Rhetoric in Appalachian Literature," reference # 2545.