Writing on Water

Edited by
Lenore Manderson
and Forrest Gander

The Book

A wide-ranging consideration of water’s plenitude and paucity — and of our relationship to its many forms.

Water is quotidian, ubiquitous, precious, and precarious. With their roots in this element, the authors of Water’s Edge reflect on our natural environment: its forms, textures, and stewardship. Born from a colloquium organized by the editors at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, the anthology features a diverse group of writers and artists from half a dozen countries, from different fields of scholarship and practice: artists, biologists, geologists, poets, ecocritics, actors, and anthropologists. The contributors explore and celebrate water while reflecting on its disturbances and pollution, and their texts and art play with the boundaries by which we differentiate literary forms.

In the creative nonfiction, poetry, and visual art collected here, water moves from backdrop to subject. Ashley Dawson examines the effects of industrial farming on the health of local ecosystems and economies. Painter Kulvinder Kaur Dhew captures water’s brilliance and multifaceted reflections through a series of charcoal pieces that interlace the collection. Poet Arthur Sze describes the responsibility involved in the careful management of irrigation ditches in New Mexico. Rather than concentrating their thoughts into a singular, overwhelming argument, the authors circulate moments of apprehension, intimation, and felt experience. They are like tributaries, each carrying, in a distinctive style, exigent and often intimate reports concerning a substance upon which all living organisms depend.


LENORE MANDERSON is a distinguished professor of public health and medical anthropology in the School of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. From 2014 to 2019 she was also a distinguished visiting professor at Brown University in the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. The Society for Applied Anthropology recognized Manderson’s career achievements with the 2023 Bronislaw Malinowski Award. She is the author of Surface Tensions: Surgery, Bodily Boundaries, and the Social Self, among other books; her most recent coedited work is Viral Loads: Anthropologies of Urgency in the Time of Covid-19. Born in Australia, she now divides her time between Naarm (Melbourne), Australia, and Johannesburg, South Africa.

FORREST GANDER, a writer and translator with degrees in geology and literature, was born in the Mojave Desert and lives in Northern California. Gander’s book Be With was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Core Samples from the World was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Among his other recent titles are the novel The Trace and two translations: Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda and It Must Be a Misunderstanding: Poems by Coral Bracho.


Coral Bracho, Akiko Busch, Ashley Dawson, Forrest Gander, Kulvinder Kaur Dhew, Brenda Hillman, Maya Khosla, Lenore Manderson, Will McGrath, José-Luis Moctezuma, Zoe Nyssa, Ailsa Piper, Elizabeth Rush, Cole Swensen, Arthur Sze, Wendy Woodson, Atul Bhalla, Samuel Gregoire and Colin Channer


“Pray for rain. Water is patient. Run from water, hide from wind. Be the water. Water’s Edge takes us on a compelling journey through water’s multitudes. This unique confluence of prose, poetry and image is equal parts elemental and emotional. Manderson and Gander have curated a powerful case for paying real attention to this most powerful of earth’s gifts to us.”

—Amanda H. Lynch, coauthor of Urgency in the Anthropocene

“Moving away from congealed, terrestrial habits of thinking, this iridescent volume restores the power of liquescent imaginations, creating a new scape for our troubled times. Through poetry, reverie, and anecdote, the contributors reawaken our consciousness to a creative and intimate engagement with the fluvial, even as the waters rise around us. A book to dip into or to immerse oneself in. An effervescent experience.”

—Dilip M. Menon, editor of Changing Theory: Concepts from the Global South

“Water’s Edge prompts us to see the critical role water plays in our health and in our imagination from a delightful diversity of unusual perspectives. Although water is often taken for granted, the ebb and flow of these thoughtful contributions—from poems to memoir to creative sensory explorations—recharges our thinking about this life force, and elicits reflection on the responsibility we have in determining the future of our oceans, rivers, wetlands and aquifers.”

—Cindy Crosby, author of Chasing Dragonflies: A Natural, Cultural, and Personal History (Northwestern University Press)