“The Paradise of How It Has to Be”: Writing About the Future of the Earth in a Time of Decline. A Conversation with William deBuys





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Author Biographies

Christian Arnsperger, University of Lausanne

Christian Arnsperger is Professor of Sustainability and Economic Anthropology at the University of Lausanne and coordinator of the Master’s program in Foundations and Practices of Sustainability. He specializes in the existential and ecological critique of capitalism, post-growth economics and sustainable counterculture, the transition from circularity to “permacircularity,” and the systemic links between money and sustainability.

Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet, University of Lausanne

Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet is Professor of American Literature at the University of Lausanne and co-director of the New American Studies Master’s specialization program. She has published two monographs, eight edited collections of essays, and numerous articles on topics ranging from the Eco-Gothic to American counterculture.

William deBuys

William deBuys (b. 1949) lives and writes in northern New Mexico at his homestead in El Valle, in the vicinity of Taos. Originally from the East Coast, he was educated in Baltimore, MD and Chapel Hill, NC before moving to the Southwest five decades ago where, as he puts it in his autobiographical notes,[1] he got “a new education” that “went farther and deeper.” This early and momentous, tectonic shift in his life

introduced me to a culture far from home and to ethics of community and place that were foreign to the privileged world in which I’d grown up. It also tutored me in the requirements of living with the land. My teachers were my Hispanic neighbors and the beautiful, rugged mountain country that enveloped our valley.

Not a fluent writer from the outset, he gradually grew into the role after he struck an almost animistic deal with the nature around him. By accident, he found the wreck of a crashed airplane in the Pecos Wilderness that stretches out between Santa Fe and Taos, while he was struggling to write about that rugged and beautiful landscape. Having received a reward for this fortuitous finding, he felt he had been given

a grant from the mountains themselves, and it caused me to believe that if I quit my [writing] project, which at times I desperately wanted to do, I would be breaking the terms of the grant. No one would ask that the money be returned, but I feared the karmic consequences if I walked away. So I persevered. I kept making bad sentences hoping good ones would eventually come along. In time, they did, and the going got easier.

Many decades and prizes later, deBuys has an impressive oeuvre to show for this early pact with the local mountains. The local humans have followed suit in recognizing his talents, and he has since then received a number of awards, among them a New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, as well as recognitions from Zuni Pueblo and Santa Clara Pueblo for service to their communities in his work as a conservationist.

He has established himself as one of America’s foremost writers on the many interfaces between wild nature and human nature, on the delicate interlacing of longing, joy, grief and hope in the face of ever dwindling wildness and ever more threatening anthropogenic alterations of the biosphere. Of his latest book, The Trail to Kanjiroba, which forms a kind of “accidental trilogy” with A Great Aridness—on climate change—and The Last Unicorn—on extinction and the loss of biodiversity—he writes: “Having written about climate change and species extinction, I [was] seeking consolation. I needed to find a constructive way of living with the discouraging implications of what I had learned about the problems plaguing Earth. Without giving in to numbness or futility, I needed both to acknowledge the dire state of things and still remain committed to changing them. I also felt a need to celebrate Earth’s beauty.”


[1] See https://williamdebuys.com/about-william-debuys/


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How to Cite

Arnsperger, C., Soltysik Monnet, A., & deBuys, W. (2022). “The Paradise of How It Has to Be”: Writing About the Future of the Earth in a Time of Decline. A Conversation with William deBuys. Text Matters: A Journal of Literature, Theory and Culture, (12), 126–139. https://doi.org/10.18778/2083-2931.12.08

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