Brenda Peterson

Brenda Peterson

Brenda Peterson is a nature writer and novelist, author of 15 books, including a New York Times "Notable Book of the Year," Duck and Cover. Her memoir, Build Me an Ark: A Life with Animals, was chosen as a "Best Spiritual Book of 2001," a One Spirit and Quality Paperback Club book, and is just out in a Chinese edition. Her ten non-fiction books, including Living by Water and the National Geographicbook, Sightings: The Gray Whale's Mysterious Journeyestablished her as a prominent creative non-fiction writer, extensively profiled in America's Nature Writers. Peterson's most recent novel was Animal Heart (Sierra Club books).

Peterson's non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Reader's Digest, Christian Science Monitor, and Utne Reader. Her work is
featured in national magazines, including Sierra, Oprahmagazine, and Orion: People and Nature. She is a frequent columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle Timesand since 1993 she has contributed environmental commentary for both Seattle National Public Radio stations. Since 1980, Peterson has taught writing in universities and privately.

For the past two decades, Peterson has studied and written about animals, especially marine mammals and wolves. She is the founder of the grassroots conservation group Seal Sitters, based in Seattle, Washington.

With Toni Frohoff, she co-edited the Sierra Club anthologyBetween Species: Celebrating the Dolphin-Human Bond. Her bestselling anthology Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals is often taught in university courses. Her new book, I Want to Be Left Behind: Rapture Here on Earth is a spiritual memoir due out in Feb. 2010. The first chapter, internationally reprinted, was published by Orion magazine.


The Drowning World

A Novel

Delphinius Publishing, 2012

This new YA crossover fantasy novel is like The Hunger Games, set underwater in a future of rising seas, floating cities, and Flood Lands. The DROWNING WORLD is a haunting and mesmerizing story of two different people from two very different worlds. Can a mermaid and a human boy find love? Can they survive in his world and hers?

A regal and highly trained young mermaid, Marina, is on her first spy mission to Skyeworld in 2020. She comes ashore on Siesta Key, Florida where she meets feisty Lukas, a proud Cuban refugee. Marina will have to choose between the advanced civilization of Aquantis, where she has been chosen as a High Priestess, and her love for Lukas and his dangerously polluted SkyeWorld.

Marina's magic and skill save Lukas' life. But can she save her own against a lifelong nemesis from her world?

I Want to be Left Behind
Finding Rapture Here on Earth
(De Capo Press, 2010)

In Brenda Peterson's unusual memoir, fundamentalism meets deep ecology. The author's childhood in the high Sierra with her forest ranger father led her to embrace the entire natural world, while her Southern Baptist relatives prepared eagerly and busily to leave this world. Peterson survived fierce "sword drill" competitions demanding total recall of the Scriptures and awkward dinner table questions ("Will Rapture take the cat, too?") only to find that environmentalists with prophecies of doom can also be Endtimers. Peterson paints such a hilarious, loving portrait of each world that the reader, too, may want to be Left Behind.

Animal Heart
A Novel
(Sierra Club Books, 2004)

When an eerie mass stranding of whales and dolphins takes place along the mist-shrouded Oregon Coast, forensic wildlife pathologist Isabel Spinner and her friend and co-worker Marian Windhorse Gray covertly investigate this disaster as a crime against wildlife. For years, Isabel has kept some emotional distance between herself and other humans, while devoted to easing the suffering of animals. But when Isabel finally joins with Marshall McGreggor, an undersea photographer whose unexpected transplant has him delving into the mystery surrounding his new heart, the two find themselves making surprising decisions that will forever change their lives.

In this, her fourth novel, renowned author Brenda Peterson offers a captivating love story of people whose compassion for animals compels them into extraordinary acts of heroism. Based on cutting-edge science, this powerful page-turner tackles such timely and troubling issues as low-frequency active sonar and animal experimentation, and forewarns of a future of Dead Zone oceans, disappearing species, and a world with creatures whose DNA boundaries have been genetically blurred. At once prescient and poignant, Animal Heart is a haunting, highly original story of the deep bonds between human and animals—and of our inevitably linked fates.

Duck and Cover
A Novel
(Authors Guild, 2004)

"My family has practiced the end of the world more than most," begins this novel, told in the voices of three generations of the spirited MacKenzies -– a nuclear family who still fights the Cold War on the home front. An eerily prescient novel, Duck and Cover is even timelier now in a 21st century of intimate terrorism -– within our families and our world.

Selected by the New York Times as a "Notable Book of the Year "for its "wicked, black comedy," Duck and Cover was hailed by Publisher's Weekly as a "bittersweet and utterly beguiling novel." The Los Angeles Timesnoted Peterson is "a hauntingly funny writer...the balance she strikes is almost hypnotic."

Face to Face
(North Point Press, 2005)

From the vantage points of diverse backgrounds and beliefs, the writings gathered here describe a vast range of spiritual searches and encounters. Sy Montgomery writes about shamans, Terry Tempest Williams about her Mormon heritage, and Starhawk about witchcraft. Mary Gordon captures the attractions of the contemplative life. Ursula Le Guin speaks about the feminine aspects of the Tao te Ching. Jane Goodall reflects on the symbiosis of science and religion after experiencing an ecstatic loss of self in the company of chimpanzees. Facet by facet, these essays and poems--by Molly Peacock, Anne Sexton, Kathleen Norris, Diane Ackerman, and Joy Harjo, among others--reveal and celebrate the special relationship of women to the spiritual realm in a volume that will comfort, provoke, and inspire.

Between Species
Celebrating the Dolphin-Human Bond
Co-edited with Toni Frohoff
(Sierra Club Books, 2003)

Dolphins and humans have always been curious about each other, and since ancient times the kinship between our species has been celebrated across cultures and continents in myth, art, literature, and science. Only recently, however, have we gone beyond our own view of this interspecies connection and begun to ask: What might this bond look like from the dolphins' perspective? Now, Between Species brings together for the first time eminent scientists and gifted writers to help shed light on this intriguing question. Edited by wildlife researcher Toni Frohoff and nature writer Brenda Peterson, the text selections range from tales of transforming dolphin encounters to views on how to protect cetaceans and their habitats, and from poems honoring dolphins to provocative critiques of swim-with-the-dolphins programs and acoustic pollution. Pieces include Diane Ackerman's essay on "deep play" with a wild dolphin; Marc Bekoff'sethical questions concerning our intrusion in dolphins' lives; and the late Dr. John Lilly's call for a "Cetacean Nation." This groundbreaking anthology not only explores the depths and beauty of the dolphin-human bond but encourages new generations to respect the complexities and responsibilities inherent in such interspecies kinship.

The Gray Whales' Mysterious Journey
(National Geographic Society, 2003)

For 50 million years, the gray whale—the most ancient of all great whales—has evolved along the western shores of North America. Its 10,000-mile migration from its summer feeding grounds in the Bering Sea to its winter birthing lagoons in Baja, Mexico, represents a timeless story—one that exceeds the rational boundaries of science and speaks to many worlds, both human and cetacean.

In Sightings, celebrated Chicksaw writer Linda Hogan and acclaimed novelist and naturalist Brenda Peterson look at the rich past and divisive present of the gray whale, including the conflict between environmentalists who seek to protect the species and Native American tribes who traditionally hunt them. The authors illuminate as never before the complex and fascinating perspectives that surround this monumental migration—from tribal members, scientists, and fishermen to eco-warriors, businessmen, and historical whalers. Suffused with the authors' lyricism and clear-eyed passion, Sightings is a revelatory, often haunting, and altogether triumphant amalgam of accessible science, compelling history, incisive anthropology, and powerhouse storytelling.

Build Me an Ark
A Life with Animals
(W.W. Norton, 2002)

This is the story of a life and spirit guided by the animals. Brenda Peterson was raised in the High Sierras on a national forest lookout station, and wildlife had a daily, defining influence on her life. Beginning with her fascination with Smokey Bear, Peterson explores her deep connection with animals, from watching grizzlies in Montana's Rockies, to keeping Siberian huskies as pets in New York City and Colorado, to her work for the restoration of wild wolves in the West. Her lively storytelling bridges the worlds of human and animal, as she fascinates us with intimate stories of the wild dolphins, whales, and orcas whose lives she has studied for the past two decades. With each moving story, Peterson reveals a turning point in which animal bonds have enriched her life and led her toward a wider epiphany: As a species we cannot live without other animals. 17 b/w photographs.

The Sweet Breathing of Plants
Women Writing on the Green World
(North Point Press, 2002)

Since prehistory, plants -- as sources of food, medicine, clothing, beauty, and life itself -- have been the province of women. Yet no previous book has attempted to bring together the rich literature this connection has inspired. This burgeoning collection amply addresses that lack, celebrating an ancient and ongoing relationship with more than three dozen selections of nonfiction and poetry.

Living by Water
True Stories of Nature and Spirit
(Fulcrum Publishing, 2002)

From her saltwater home near the shores of Puget Sound, novelist and essayist Brenda Peterson explores the tidal pull of the mist-shrouded Pacific Northwest. In Living by Water, Peterson first described for readers nature's "lightning revelation...the simple rhythms of water." As she observes seals, whales, and seabirds; watches the changing tides and weather, she notes how the natural world shapes the lives and spirits of the inhabitants-animal and human-of her chosen home. Her meditations, which range from a portrait of craggy, longtime environmentalist Joseph Meeker to a description of her love of dolphins, to a deadly comparison between Washington's Green River and South America's Amazon, all entreat the reader to recognize the need to heal the treaty broken between humans and their natural world.

From Henry Thoreau's reflections on Walden Pond to Annie Dillard's journal of life at Tinker Creak, writers have found that water can shape a life and a philosophy. In that same tradition, Brenda Peterson writes, "I've apprenticed myself to Puget Sound because I believe it will teach me more about living than what I've learned so far." Living by Water offers timeless wisdom that applies to all people in all places who long to awaken to what naturalist Thomas Berry has called the "dream of the earth."

Singing to the Sound
Visions of Nature, Animals and Spirit
(New Sage Press, 2001)

This passionate yet contemplative collection of nature stories is the long-awaited sequel to Brenda Petersons popular classic Living by Water first published in 1990. From her two decades on the shores of Puget Sound, Peterson now advances her "love song for a region" into a new century in which the West is leading and shaping environmental ethics worldwide. An acclaimed nature writer, Petersons literate, lyrical writing moves from stately reporting to memoir.

Singing to the Sound reveals darker and more troubled waters from the Makah whale hunt to the feared extinction of Northwest salmon. For the first time in book form, Peterson unravels the complexities of the highly controversial Makah whale hunt the first off U.S. mainland shores in nearly a century. As mediator and reporter of this international story for five years, Peterson now writes as historian with an eye for the future of both people and whales. She moves beyond the polarized view of "Indians versus environmentalists" to portray a multi-faceted, human drama with no easy answers to a story that is still unfolding.

But Peterson also offers subtle solutions and visions of future environmental restoration and healing. Included here is the story of inner-city adolescents who discover their own animal allies in an urban jungle; and an interview with a husband-wife research team who listen and record orcas twenty-four hours a day on a remote island in Columbia British. There are also stories of wild dolphins who offer companionable play as a survival skill and a great blue heron who teaches lessons of a calm and happy spirit, amidst political terrorism. Singing to the Sound moves from love song to prophesy, from the way things are to a vision of what they might be.

Intimate Nature
The Bond Between Women and Animals
(Ballantine Books, 1999)

Though women have long felt kinship with animals, in the past, they seldom participated in the study of them. Now, as more women make animals the subject of their investigations, significant new ideas are emerging--based on the premise that animals are honored co-sharers of the earth. This unprecedented anthology features original stories, essays, meditations, and poems by a vast array of women nature writers and field scientists, including:


Sister Stories
Taking the Journey Together
(Penguin, 1997)

Of all human bonds, it is the tie between women that proves the most enduring, and nourishing. In Sister Stories, award-winning author Brenda Peterson traces the rich legacy of sisterhood from the present day to its deepest roots in myth and antiquity.

The Drowning World

"This underwater world is so believable and vivid and fascinating. It's a page-turner. Irresistible!" -- Sy Montgomery, bestselling author The Good, Good Pig

"The merpeople and their resplendent undersea setting are so full and rich. Amazing and haunting, The Drowning World exceeds the grasp of The Golden Compass in its themes and imaginative reach. A wonderful novel." -- Marion Copeland, book critic Nature in Legend and Story

"The Drowning World is a rollicking good tale of shape-shifting, time travel, mermaids, the secret world of Aquantis, and other dreams of Peterson's glorious imagination--all set against the backdrop of powerful forces--the fate of the seas, human turmoil, young love, and what everyone feels at some point in their life: The sense of being an alien in an alien land. Its pull is oceanic--it quickly lures you deep beneath its waves while time evaporates." -- Diane Ackerman, The Zookeeper's Wife


I Want to be Left Behind

Booklist *starred review
"Unusually affecting and radiant . . . Peterson seeks a meeting of church and earth in this witty, enrapturing account of a spiritual journey of great relevance to us all."

Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2010
Like immigrants from other cultures, successive generations in America grow further from the once-powerful religious beliefs of their forebears. Environmental stewardship, the tenets and rituals of sustainability provide a new meeting ground for lost and wayward religions. In the house that Brenda Peterson grew up in, Southern Baptist relatives with their prophesies of doom lay down, lion-and-lamb style, side by side with the beliefs (political and moral) of her father, a forest ranger in the High Sierra. Peterson goes forth to live in New York City and works at the New Yorker. Then, she designs her own brand of activism: moving to Seattle and watching over a local seal population, being part of a community that includes flora and fauna. It is a rich and often lovely l ife -- full of humr and Peterson's own unique brand of faith. "You know, George," she tells her neighbor, who's a Pentecostal and speaks to her of tribulation, rapture and leaving the Earth for the kingdom of Christ, "I really want to be left behind."
-- Susan Salter Reynolds

"I've been a fan of Brenda Peterson's novels since the witty Duck and Cover. But I can't think of another book at all like this memoir – it's so odd and wonderful. Peterson writes here of family and conflicting faiths with moving and poignant humor"
-- Diane Johnson, author of Le Divorce

Brenda Peterson, one of the most eloquent nature writers of our time, takes on human nature. Read this book and share it widely. It is that important.
-- Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals

"A loving, luminous portrait of an irresistibly intriguing family, told by the most fascinating member of all -- the one who doesn't fit in. It's alive with stars over the Grand Canyon, scents of the sea, menus at family gatherings, and singing a descant. The story is told with such truth and tenderness that you can't help loving the whole family."
-- Sy Montgomery author of The Good, Good Pig

"Brenda Peterson's picaresque memoir is a mesmerizing treat, at turns inspiring and hilarious, as she recalls her southern Baptist upbringing and the unlikely but spirited paths that lead her from the church's end‐of‐the‐world "rapture" to the everyday paradise of mother Earth. In this highly unusual autobiography, her keen‐eyed descriptions of the natural world, and a delicious sense of fun, combine beautifully with her tales of protecting seals, whales, hope, and other wild things.
-- Diane Ackerman, author of The Zookeeper's Daughter

"A tender, lyrical account, Peterson expresses genuine love for her family and gratitude for their gifts. Peterson always seeks common ground."
--Library Journal


Duck and Cover

"A wicked black comedy . . . Peterson would seem to hold out just about as much hope for the family as she does the planet."
--New York Times "Notable Book of the Year"

"Offers insights into the American way of life, presented in a fresh style with on-target dialogue and dollops of black humor."
-- Library Journal

"Eccentric and often amusing satirical romp . . .  a highly original work by an intriguing author."
-- Kirkus Reviews

". . . Bittersweet and utterly beguiling novel."
-- Publishers Weekly

"A hauntingly funny writer . . . the balance she strikes is almost hypnotic."
-- Los Angeles Times


Living by Water

"A new breed of essayist is a-borning in America . . . Writing about nature, they write of spirit; writing about humanity, they give voice to the animal in us all . . . Brenda Peterson exemplifies this new essayist."
--Booklist, Editor's Choice by the American Library Association

"Evocative . . . The ruminations of a diarist of uncommon sensitivity and polish . . . Living by Water is a love song for a region."
--Seattle Times

"In these engaging and deeply felt essays . . . .[Peterson] writes of nature with an intimacy that tugs at the reader's deep memory."


Nature and Others

"Peterson writes a vital, intimate prose that energizes readers with its intelligence and good humor."  Publishers Weekly, included in New York Times "Noted with Pleasure."
"Moving but never sentimental, sophisticated but accessible, this small volume is sure to both inspire and amuse. Highly recommended."
--Library Journal

"Potent and poignant . . . Lively essays that mix politics, religion, nature, myth, and memoir."
--San Francisco Chronicle

"A lyrical and life-enhancing collection. . . There are large doses of wonder, humor, and warmth . . . Nature and Other Mothers is overflowing with heartening and healing spiritual thoughts."
--Values and Visions


Sister Stories

"An amazing book; the untold stories of sisterhood . . . written with wit, warmth, and an unwavering sense of the sacred kinship of all life."
--Riane Eisler, author The Chalice and the Blade

"A look at sisters' experiences, points of views, and bonds . . . an inspiring, thought-provoking, and strong book."
--The New York Times Book Review section


Sightings: The Gray Whale's Mysterious Journey

"This book is not the standard National Geographic fare . . . Sightings is beautiful reading. Each of the short chapters is rich as a poem, and indeed, many read like song or poetry, each woman's distinctive voice blending and harmonizing with her co-author's."
--Sy Montgomery, author The Good, Good Pig

"Brenda Peterson is amazing, a soulful and profound observer of nature -- from whales to humans -- in all their glory and distress."
--Diane Ackerman, author The Zookeeper's Daughter


Singing to the Sound

"It is such empathy for both humans and the natural world that sets this remarkable author apart."
--Bloomsbury Review

"A Peterson essay can take off like a flock of birds . . . She sings to us about ourselves."

"Each passionate story examines the way humans commune or collide with the natural world, so that a pearl of wisdom is always found beneath the surface. Peterson writes with spiritual maturity and environmental authority." Spirituality editor


Build Me An Ark

A Life with Animals"A lifelong love of animals combined with a jeweler's eye for multifaceted philosophical meanings provide Peterson with a wealth of fascinating anecdotes and insights in this engaging memoir."
--Publishers Weekly

"The story of a life and spirit guided by animals . . . Build Me an Ark is based in science and very well written."

"Peterson is an engaging, persuasive storyteller . . . Compassionate stories that will surely delight the animal lover . . . A fine addition to the literature on humane natural history"
--Science Books & Films

"Brenda Peterson fashions a sturdy ark of words and images that convince us that we must look out for these fellow travelers and carry them high in our love and esteem."
--Spirituality and Health magazine, Selected as a "Best Spiritual Book of 2001"


Animal Heart

"This is a galvanizing and enlightening tale thanks to Peterson's expert portrayal of animals, compassionate view of radical activism, and illuminating insights into our profound bonds with other species."

"One can hardly imagine a more heartfelt work or a more unusual love story than this one. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries."
--Library Journal

"[A] gripping tale about love, xenotransplantation and the military-industrial complex's flagrant disregard for environmental responsibility. . .Peterson's passion shines through."
--Publishers Weekly

"With her remarkable background working with dolphins and other sea mammals, Brenda Peterson, an acclaimed novelist, has woven the stories of both humans and sea creatures together. A great read."
--Diane Johnson, author of Le Divorce

"Brenda Peterson weaves a haunting love story into a fast-moving plot.Animal Heart is based on facts that are terrifyingly true, and it captures the exquisite beauty of a world that we are devastating and destroying, piece by piece. Please read it."
--Jane Goodall, author of Reason for Hope



Brenda's Huffington Post Blog

Brenda's Blogspot


Rapture in the Earth GAIAN VOICES interview, September 30, 2009

Orion Magazine—January/February 2008
Saving Seals: Our duties in this world, and beyond

"WITH 9/11, the blessed countdown for the Rapture has begun," my neighbor George informed me almost casually. He caught me off guard. After decades of giddily anticipating the end of the world and getting no response from me, most of the true believers in my family have stopped asking if I'm ready to be swept up in the Second Coming. Plus, this was the last place I expected to be proselytized... More at Orion Magazine.

Seal sitting by the Salish Sea
BRENDA PETERSON GUEST COLUMNIST. When reports of a "beached" baby seal near crowded Alki Bath House reached us, we neighborhood Seal Sitter volunteers ...

Group takes turn watching over Alki seal pups
Last updated September 18, 2007 10:34 p.m. PT
They call themselves seal sitters.
They're a group of West Seattle residents who since July have devoted their days and nights to watching over the baby harbor seals that doze on Alki Beach while their moms search for food...

NPR/WILL AM Radio, University of Illinois interview
Brenda discusses her book Animal Heart.


Writing Memoir: Finding Your Voice

In this clip from her May 2011 BOOK LUST interview with uber-librarian Nancy Pearl, Peterson offers insights on writing memoir:

1. How to find your own original, storytelling voice
2. The narrative arc of one's story
3. First-person techniques and plots
4. Making a character of the Self -- comedy or tragedy?
5. How to create characters of others
6. Finding the Soul of Your Story
7. Facing the Inner Critic

Catch up with Brenda on Twitter

And visit Brenda's blog or her personal website.