Lecture to cover messengers of environmental justice

UA professor argues that female writers are often stigmatized as 'bad girls'

Posted: Friday, October 31, 2003

University of Alaska Southeast literature professor Susan Lucas will explore the grass-roots movement of environmental justice in "Bad Girls and Bad News: The Female Messengers of Environmental Justice," a 7 p.m. lecture tonight at the Egan Lecture Hall on the UAS campus.

Admission is free. The presentation is the eighth in the Evening at Egan fall lecture series.

"Environmental justice is really a lot different than mainstream environmentalism, and that's one of the reasons why it will be fun to talk here in Juneau, where wilderness seems like one of the most prominent issues for environmentalists," Lucas said. "Environmental justice changes the focus and shifts it to what happens in our homes, what happens in the workplace and what happens in our daily lives."

And what happens to the messengers? Lucas will discuss the role of women in the movement. She argues that female writers are often stigmatized as "bad girls" and bearers of "bad news." She also points out that minority writers are often passed over as spokespersons for the movement.

"When I began thinking about all of this, I knew there was a whole body of literature out there, and that woman of color, like Linda Hogan, Leslie Marmon Silko and Anna Castillo, had written books," Carson said. "It seems like the popular stories are the ones told by white women. There seems to be this disconnect between the people who are activists and the people who are telling the stories."

Though environmental justice has been a popular topic for decades, the modern movement is a collaboration of environmentalists and Civil Rights activists campaigning for the rights of low-income and minority residents to live in healthy environments. The movement is said to have started at a 1982 rally in Warren County, North Carolina, where more than 500 people were arrested for protesting the proposed construction of a toxic waste landfill in a minority neighborhood.

Lucas has been studying environmental literature for more than a decade. She focused on wilderness preservation writing until reading Susanne Antonetta's "Body Toxic," a 2001 environmental memoir about health problems caused by toxic substances. Lucas earned a Ph.D. in literature and environment from the University of Nevada-Reno and moved to Juneau in August. An assistant professor of American literature at UAS, she's helping design a literature and environment major in the English program. She's teaching a creative nonfiction writing class and a sophomore-level English class at UAS.

"I don't have any petitions for anyone to sign or anything like that," Lucas said. "My goal is to introduce people to this concept and this movement."

"A lot of the information that I'm going to give is pretty frightening," she said. "It talks about how government and business have poisoned communities and not told them about it."

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