Ginger Strand on Being an Environmental Writer

Ginger Strand is the author of three books: Flight, Inventing Niagara, and most recently, Killer on the Road. Her work has also been published in Harper’s, The Believer, The Iowa Review, The New York Times, This Land, and Orion. Strand came to Log Lunch on December 6, 2013 to discuss how she came about being an environmental writer and wrote her newest book about serial killers along the federal highway system.

Strand never sought out to become an environmental writer; instead, it was a title that was placed upon her. It started with a piece she wrote about Virgil’s Aneid in which she talked about the trees in the book. Orion, an environmental and nature focused literary journal, contacted Strand, and she was surprised that they wanted to publish her piece. However, this was the beginning of her career as an environmental writer. Afterward, she looked into the aquarium throughout the United States. Strand tried to reconcile how the aquariums that were advocating for the protection of these marine resources and environment could also speak so benignly about the industries that were destroying them. One peculiar trend she saw was that a number of aquariums were built on abandoned oilrigs. Additionally the same companies by the waterfront developers who had destroyed that natural habitat in the first place largely sponsored those aquariums. After she wrote about this paradoxical relationship between aquariums and their sponsors, Strand decided to write about the hidden history of the Niagara Falls.

For Inventing Niagara, Stand researched the building of the dam and the artificial mechanisms implemented by the Army Corps of Engineers in order to make the falls appear fuller after the dam was built. She also wrote about the toxic history of the falls as well as the pollution of Love Canal. After writing this book, Strand realized that the term nature writer or environmental writer did not just exclusively mean the natural world but could also include culture and place.

All of this led to her third book, Killer on the Road, where she wrote about infrastructure as nature. A bulk of her research rested on the 1956 Interstate Highway Act which had profound effects in the cities depending on how they were placed. Highways broke up neighborhoods and also allowed for cities to either grow or to shrink. Through her research, Strand came across another aspect of the highways: the FBI Highway Serial Killers Initiative. The Highway Serial Killers Initiative mapped murders within the interstate highway system. Through it, she saw how Atlantic children murders were aligned with the highway systems. Although Strand’s book is focused on the serial killers along the highway system, she encouraged the audience to think about the other implications of her writing. How did public perception of the built environment change throughout the decades in the U.S.? What is relationship of the trucking industry with the highway system? Finally, how is the built environment affecting people and how might we make it better?

To learn more about Ginger Strand’s book, Killer on the Road, click here:

By Helen Song ’14

Ginger Strand

Ginger Strand