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Lions Roar : July 2016
When I ask Solnit how she describes what she does, she says, “My work has often been about connections between things seen as far apart or disparate—connections to cross fields in disciplines and cross times in cultures. I try and encourage people. I take interest in pleasures and possibilities that are already all around us. I try and connect the present, past, and future in how I tell stories. I try to look for the alternatives and the overlooked entrances and exits.” * * * “Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone.” THE FARAWAY NEARBY Solnit learned to read the first week she attended school. “By the second semester, I realized that somebody got to write the books, and I made my final career decision then,” she says. She grew up in Novato, California, north of San Francisco, and had a violent childhood. “Every place was safe except home,” she remembers. “To the north there was all this space and landscape, and to the south there was a really great pub- lic library. So I took refuge there, and I’m still spending a lot of time in versions of those two places.” Solnit’s teenage years were no better. She was ignored during her parents’ tumultuous divorce and experienced high school as a “ behavior-modification center” where she did not fit in. She dropped out at fifteen, got her GED, and started college at sixteen, with no encouragement except her own ambition. Deciding that what she really needed was to leave everything associated with home behind her, Solnit moved to Paris for a year. But in this city where the culture and history are so prom- inent, she was struck by the feeling that her home, California, deserved the same exploration and celebration, and she wanted to be the person to write those words. She returned to the U.S. and earned an English degree at San Francisco State University, where, she says, she learned “how to read but not to write.” When she went to UC Berkeley journalism school, she again had the experience of not fitting in, this time because of her involvement in the punk scene, which she described to The Daily Beast as “wonderful, because it was for nerds and misfits and weirdos and people who were willing to embrace Because of her own experiences as an outsider, Solnit is committed to using her position to speak up for the voiceless. “The only legitimate use of privilege,” she says, “is to try and dismantle the inequalities and unfairnesses of privilege.” LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 40