Poet Alison Hawthorne Deming Talks Craft, Climate Change, and Writing in the Age of Trump


Photo by Mark Harris

Moravian College enjoyed the company of poet and essayist Alison Hawthorne Deming the weekend of February 3. Deming visited campus to speak to students and provide the keynote address at the Moravian College Writers’ Conference,  expressing her views on the environment and sustainability.

Deming, who currently resides in Arizona and is a Professor of English at Arizona State University, is originally from Connecticut. She has been composing essays and poems practically all her life, which is not a surprise considering she is a descendant of Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, among many other novels and short stories.

“I’m grateful to have this distinguished lineage and, of course, also intimidated by the brilliance of his work,” Deming said in a recent interview with me. “We have had writers in every generation of the family since Nathaniel’s, so we keep up the trade. Ultimately, it’s about putting the time in at the desk, but it helps to feel you might be part of something bigger than yourself.”  

Deming’s writing focuses on the environment, sustainability, and her own personal stories related to these topics.

I often write about issues, people or animals I want to learn about or have questions about,” she said. “I do research in the field… [I write about] whatever captures my interest and imagination and empathy.”

Her latest work, a book of poems titled, Stairway to Heaven, deals with loss, grief, family, and how that relates to nature and our sense of self.

While an undergraduate at Brown University, Deming became a teenage mother and decided to drop out of school to take care of her daughter. She then worked at Planned Parenthood. “I worked for the federation in the 1970’s when the first family planning clinics were established under LBJ’s War on Poverty,” she explained. “I worked in a poor region of Northern Vermont where health care services were very limited, so this organization made a big difference in the lives of women. I learned that I had skills as an organizer and educator. This very humane organization gave me professional training that has sustained me through other kinds of work.”

Deming’s career as an essayist and poet began at a young age, and she has published more than 10 collections of essays, novels and anthologies. She has had many jobs throughout her life, but she is currently a professor who teaches poetry and nonfiction writing.

In relation to teaching, Deming said, “I loved school ever since kindergarten. I love working with writers as they evolve and find their voices. What could be better than helping others to pursue an artistic calling when this has given my life so much meaning? And we have never needed smart and articulate voices seeking artful ways to speak the truth as much as we need them now in the U.S.”

During her talk at the annual Moravian College Writers’ Conference on Saturday, February 4, Deming  expressed her concern for the environment and the world as a whole. The biggest problem facing the world today, she said, is “climate change and the lack of responsibility of those U.S. leaders who refuse to pursue wise and just policies to mitigate and adapt to these changes. History will not look kindly upon them.”

Deming travels across the country to give talks and readings of her poems and essays. She will be in New York City in mid-March to read her newest poems.