The goal of this master’s thesis is to explore how, as the world faces ecological collapse,
ecobiographical memoir offers ways to situate human lives within their ecosystems. It asks
how these memoirs show the interconnectedness of inhabitants of a place, whether they
are human or non-human, and how they might lead to new ways of living.
The critical component explores the genre of contemporary ecobiography, a form
of life writing that reflects on the human subject’s place in the natural world. I give a short
overview of the critical work on ecobiography since 1996, and, using this work as a starting
point, propose a definition for ecobiographical memoir. I note two themes that have been
identified in ecobiography by Jessica White: “the dissolution of boundaries between human
and other-than-human, and attention to local environments and ecosystems”. To these I
add a third: the protagonist’s undertaking of an emotional journey towards a new self.
There follows a close reading of two British memoirs that situate the self-subject within an
ecosystem over a year’s seasons: Katherine Swift’s The Morville Hours (2008); and Esther
Woolfson’s Field Notes from a Hidden City – An Urban Nature Diary (2014). The readings
examine the authors’ use of the themes of ecobiography to show their connectedness to
their ecosystems. Finally, I discuss how I use these three themes in my ecobiographical
memoir Heart Stood Still, which forms the creative component of my thesis. Heart Stood Still
is a year-long journal embedding the protagonist in her local environment of Manawatū,
Aotearoa New Zealand. The narrative is structured on the seasons, with each chapter
focusing on an aspect of the natural world: soil, fungi, fruit, water, star, stone, blossom,
bird, wind, tree, weed, insect. I hope to add to the genre of ecobiographical memoir,
showing how, as a migrant, I create a new self through my connection to and exchanges
with the local ecosystem.
Together, the critical and creative components of this thesis aim to show the
usefulness of ecobiographical memoir as a tool to imagine ourselves in new ways in our
ecologically imperilled world.
Embargoed to 16 February 2024