When it came to scheduling a residency at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, Week Seven was the only week that worked for writer Kim Todd. She’s the prose writer-in-residence for the week, which focuses on the theme of “The Nature of Fear.”
Luckily for her, the week’s theme fits perfectly with Todd’s Brown Bag lecture, “Bad Animals: Predators in the Forest and on the Page,” in which she’ll discuss people’s fear of animal predators.
“I was very happy to see that it worked out so well thematically,” Todd said.
Todd’s lecture will be at 12:15 p.m. Thursday in the ballroom of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall. The prose Brown Bag is normally scheduled for 12:15 p.m. on Fridays, but will be at a different time and location this week to accommodate the two Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle presentations by William Heyen and Susan Southard.
Todd is the author of multiple books, including Sparrow. She teaches creative writing at the University of Minnesota, and her work has been featured on NPR’s “Science Friday.”
The roots of Todd’s lecture began early on in her life. Much of her writing focuses on human connection to the natural world.
“I’m somebody who loves to be outdoors, hiking and exploring the woods,” Todd said. “But from my very early experiences with that, I was always very cautious, especially if I was in a place with large predators. So I’ve sort of been tracking my own fear and responses to that fear, and that’s translated into an interest in our cultural relationship to these large predators.”
That fascination with that fear has turned into a project about “predators in American life,” Todd said, which will provide the focus of her Brown Bag.
“I’m going to be tracing the ways that we’ve thought about some of these large carnivorous animals and the stories that we’ve told about them — whether or not they’re representations of criminals, whether or not they’re representations of some other kind of bad morality,” Todd said. “More recently, they’ve become representations of the noble and the heroic — we’ve rewritten a lot of those stories. There are also stories about ecological wholeness and their role in that.”
Todd said she’s interested in these stories and how they translate into real-world decisions about predators and how people manage them.
It’s a complex topic, but Todd said she hopes it brings a question from the subconscious to the forefront — what kind of animals are people willing to live with?
One example: pets, such as cats and dogs, Todd said. People allow them into their homes, which means they’re letting predators inside.
“See?” Todd said. “You think you don’t think about predators, but cats and dogs are both predators. And now you’ve invited one in.”
Todd said people should be asking these questions of themselves because predators “are making a comeback” and re-entering cities.
“People who thought that they are living in an area where they did not have to worry about wild animals all of a sudden do have to worry about wild animals,” Todd said. “I think one of the questions is what sort of adjustments we’re willing to make in order to live in an ecologically rich world.”
That means examining the stories people tell themselves about predators, Todd said, and seeing how those stories translate to everyday life.
“I’m always very interested in how the mythology of an animal translates into real-world management decisions,” Todd said.