Writing the Animal Other

September 16, 2021 § Leave a comment

In a new Brevity Craft Essay, Heather Durham examines how authors like Sy Montgomery, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, and Brian Doyle have redefined the ways in which we depict animals in our nonfiction.

She writes:

It seems simple enough. In creative nonfiction we don’t lie. We may write other humans, even strangers, as long as we do our best to learn what we can on multiple levels and from various sources, cognizant of power dynamics and wary of stereotypes. But if non-human animals are involved, we’ve learned, best treat them as objects, just part of the scenery. Humans are so special, so uniquely evolved in the animal kingdom that we couldn’t possibly share anything beyond the most rudimentary biology.

Which is, of course, nonsense.

Science seems to be coming around faster than writing conventions, thanks to animal behaviorists and neurobiologists who’ve continued to wonder, ask new questions, and—like any diligent writer—reject assumptions. The closer and the longer they’ve looked at other animals, the more those traits we’d thought exclusively human—complex languages, tool use, self-consciousness, play, reasoning, foresight, remembering, deceit, feeling grief and joy—have been observed in other animals. Not imagined or assumed, but scientifically confirmed.

Read the rest of her fascinating essay here in the September issue of Brevity.

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