Portrait of Michael Branch

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Writer, humorist, environmentalist and self-described "desert rat" Michael Branch has been invited to Whitman to read excerpts from his latest book "How to Cuss in Western: And Other Missives from the High Desert" released by Shambhala/Roost Books.

The reading and book signing will take place Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. at Kimball Theatre in Hunter Conservatory. The event is free and open to the public.

"How to Cuss in Western: And Other Missives from the High Desert" is Branch's ninth published book. In addition to his books, Branch has published over 200 essays, articles and reviews. His pieces have been recognized in The Best American Essays, The Best Creative Nonfiction, The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best American Non-Required Reading.

Branch, a husband and father of two, also teaches literature and environment at the University of Nevada. When writing "How to Cuss in Western: And Other Missives from the High Desert," Branch was inspired by three topics: the Great Basin Desert, his family and finding humor in writing about the environment.

Branch describes how each played a role in his latest work.

The Great Basin Desert
Often described as empty, barren, or wasteland, the high desert is incredibly beautiful and biodiverse, though not well understood by most folks. Part of the drive of my work is to educate and inspire readers to care for this maligned landscape. Why do we see some landscapes — in the same way we see some people — as less important or valuable than others? I'm motivated to help readers question their assumptions about natural beauty.

My three recent books, "Raising Wild," "Rants from the Hill" and "How to Cuss in Western," in one way or another all ask questions about what it means to be a parent — and what it means to be a kid or a grownup — within the natural world. Our daughters have been raised in a remote area of the western Great Basin Desert, and I'm interested in how the land has shaped them, and also in how their assumptions about the natural world have informed and shaped my own assumptions about nature.

Many environmental writers approach their work either with great anger, great sadness, or both. Anybody who isn't angry and sad about the state of the environment isn't paying attention, so I completely understand (and share) these feelings of frustration and grief. On the other hand, I don't believe we're built to stay angry or sad forever, and I think readers are fatigued by environmental writing that depends so heavily upon these two emotional modes. My work in these past three books experiments with how humor might be used to broaden the audience for environmental writing, and also to make the experience of thinking about our relationship to place more entertaining and rejuvenating than a grim approach can offer.