The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Delving into nature, au naturale

Antonio Litterio

To commemorate this week’s Iowa City Book Festival, the *Daily Iowan* has gone behind the scenes with a couple of the featured writers, in an attempt to provide readers with a look at their creative processes.Andrea Wulf, a renowned author of five books, spoke with *The Daily Iowan* from her home in London this past week about her love of nature, the work that goes into her writing, and the widespread success of her latest award-winning book, *The Invention of Nature*. The book serves as an in-depth written history of Alexander von Humboldt, the oft-forgotten but crucial German naturalist responsible for many of our contemporary perceptions of the natural world.

The transcribed conversation below has been condensed and edited for clarity.


*DI*: When did your interest in nature begin?


Andrea Wulf: I think as a child, basically. We had a little cottage in northern Germany where we spent every weekend, all the holidays, so that’s really where I started hanging out in forests, and paddling along rivers, and stuff like that. [So] later when I started writing and doing history, all my books were really about the relationship between humankind and nature.


*DI*: What difficulties do you face while writing?


Wulf: For me, the main thing is really to find the sources that allow me to tell a story through the eyes of my protagonist. Sometimes, you find a great historical figure, but you just don’t have any private letters, for example, and then it’s basically impossible to write the kind of book I’m writing, because everything I write about what they feel, what they eat, what they smell is all based on facts and manuscripts. Sometimes, I have to let go of a good story just because there’s not enough source material for it, which was the opposite for Humboldt, because there’s so much about him.


*DI*: How much research has to go into it?


Wulf: More than the writing, I suppose. I did research and archives across the world, I followed Humboldt’s footsteps through South America, [and] so it’s kind of a journey through landscapes and through letters and archives basically. It’s impossible to say, because you’d find something in an archive, you write something up. It takes a long, long time, but it’s great fun.


*DI*: What awards have you been given from this book?


Wulf: So last week I won the Royal Society and Science book prize, which is the largest science-book prize in the world, and the Royal Society is like the oldest scientific society, founded in the 17th century. So that was an amazing award. I won the Costa, which is a big award here in the UK in the category of biography, and then the *LA Times* Book Prize, and then in November, I’m getting a prize that is given by the Nature Conservancy. So a pretty good crop I got for this one, I think.


*DI*: What is the best advice you can give to young writers?


Wulf: Read, read, read, and read. I think the most important thing if you’re a writer is to read. If you write nonfiction, I think it’s really important to read fiction so that you don’t forget that it’s not just the facts, it’s also the language. And then, you just have to love writing; if you don’t feel that you want to write every day, I think it’s too hard to do it. You have to wake up in the morning and want to go to your desk and write basically. It’s a craft. I feel like my writing gets better with every book, so it’s a craft, just like being a joiner, or a tiler, or a musician, the more hours you put in the better you get, I think.


Andrea Wulf Reading

When: Noon today

Where: Old Capitol Senate Chamber

Cost: Free

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About the Contributor
Naomi Hofferber, Arts Reporter
Nathaniel Hofferber is a fourth-year University of Iowa student, and reported on arts and works as an audio producer at The Daily Iowan. Hofferber has been with the DI since the start of his freshman year, serving as a news reporter covering city council and social-justice issues, before becoming News Editor his sophomore year and Arts Editor junior year.