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Vanessa Berry: a note on Gentle and Fierce

Much of my writing hinges around a question: where do our memories reside? Within ourselves, of course, but they are always connected to the places, people, beings and objects that have played meaningful roles in our lives. 

In Gentle and Fierce I reflect on animals, and how my life stories have been shaped by their presence. These essays and illustrations form a discontinuous memoir, based around the animals and animal representations that have expanded my perceptions and sense of self. 

Having spent my lifetime in city environments, many of my experiences with animals have been through daily encounters with domestic and urban animals, as well as through representations of animals in art, literature, media and domestic objects. I have found that these encounters, rather than being mundane or remote, can provide a way of connecting with animal lives. The accompanying hand-drawn illustrations of significant objects from the essays reflect this personal perspective and understanding.

The time in which my life is occurring is a turning point for the planet. Environmental change and destruction have escalated to the point at which extinction of species and disruption of ecosystems is occurring on a vast scale. The cycles and forces at work within this can feel epic in scope, beyond the orbit of any one individual life, but are also the cumulative effects of countless human actions, decisions and propensities. In this lies the possibility of change. By drawing attention to the many ways our lives are interconnected with animals, I hope that Gentle and Fierce will give readers a sense of this potential. 

– Vanessa Berry

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