Writers for the Sea is a new organization that was formed on June 8—World Oceans Day—and is going to make a splash, if not set off a new wave, in literature. What prompted the creation of Writers for the Sea?
"Who hears the fishes when they cry?” asked Henry David Thoreau in 1839. The following year, Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast, about a sea journey to California and back to Boston, became a nationwide bestseller. Then, in 1851, Dana’s friend Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick to little acclaim; it would only come to be known as a classic of American literature years after Melville died a poor and disappointed man. Still later, John Steinbeck wrote about his scientific expedition along the coast of Baja with Monterey marine biologist Ed Rickets in The Log of the Sea of Cortez (he also thinly disguised his friend as Doc in Cannery Row). Ricketts himself wrote a defining textbook of ocean science, Between Pacific Tides.
In the 1960s, American readers became enthralled by the ocean works of Rachel Carson, including The Sea Around Us, before she went on to greater fame as the author of Silent Spring, a seminal work of the modern environmental movement. A whole generation was fascinated by the ocean from reading the books and seeing the films and television specials of Jacques Cousteau in the 1960s and ’70s. Cousteau drew millions of people into the ocean, just as millions more were scared out of it by reading Peter Benchley’s Jaws and seeing the blockbuster summer movie that book spawned. Benchley himself went on to dedicate much of his life to protecting sharks and their ocean habitat.
Despite other bestsellers, such as Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October and Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, the current literature of the seas has remained surprisingly sparse.
But that tide has now begun to turn. In the last decade, we’ve seen a growing number of authors writing in myriad ways about our seas and the humans who interact with them. All that holds these writers together is a love of saltwater and a recognition that perhaps the only remaining ocean resource not fully exploited is a well-told tale, be it one of scientific discovery, exploration and adventure, survival, investigative reporting, photojournalism, fiction, or literary nonfiction. By the very names of their books, some of the titles speak to the particular writers’ passions: The Wave, The Golden Shore, War of the Whales, Eye of the Albatross, American Catch, Water Light Time, Blue Hope, Deep Blue Home, and Planet Ocean.
Though Writers for the Sea may come to function like other literary groups, such as the Mystery Writers of America or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, growing regional chapters, book anthologies, collegial awards, reading groups and so on, the reality is that we’re always going to have crime and kids—but maybe not a living sea. By creating Writers for the Sea it is hoped that through public talks, panels, and a media presence—not only at libraries and book fairs, but also at dive- and surf-industry conventions, policy-maker forums, maritime- and tourism-industry meetings—we can amplify both the warning and the wonder, reducing the threats that certain human behaviors now pose to our ocean planet and emphasizing the redemptive qualities that link us all to the natural world, as recorded by the written word.
The 35 founding members of Writers for the Sea have developed this mission statement: to support and promote authors and their books that are written about the greater part of our blue planet that is ocean.
We have also established the following goals for the group that will operate as a project of the nonprofit Ocean Awareness Project Inc:
◗ To provide an opportunity for authors who’ve written at least one book about our seas to interact and share their experiences, including experiences with the ocean, with their readership and with the publishing industry.
◗ To organize or participate in panels, events, and anthologies that help expand the readership and audience for books relating to the marine environment.
◗ To promote social, artistic, scientific, and environmental understanding of the ocean and the role it plays in human affairs.
◗ To promote understanding of the critical state of our living seas, in terms of a global ecosystem at risk and the ways in which using books and the additional content that writers generate can help educate the public.
◗ To celebrate past writers for the sea such as Dana, Melville, and Carson, and to mentor and offer assistance to new and emerging Writers for the Sea, including youth and students.
David Helvarg is an author and executive director of Blue Frontier, an ocean conservation group. His latest book is Saved by the Sea: Hope, Heartbreak and Wonder in the Blue World (New World Library).