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2 November 2022

Leah Thomas’s Q&A: “My earliest memory involved a priest, a rabbi and a firefighter”

The environmentalist discusses the poetry collection Black Nature, the Real Housewives franchise and Cori Bush.

By New Statesman

Leah Thomas was born in St Louis, Missouri, in 1994. She worked for the US National Park Service and the outdoor clothing company Patagonia before becoming a full-time environmental activist.

What’s your earliest memory?

I was two and my mum was following her mother in the car, because she was acting a little strange. My grandma had a seizure in her car and then drove into a lake. There happened to be a firefighter, a priest and a rabbi in the area and they saved her. It changed her life: she befriended the priest and the rabbi, and became a Buddhist.

Who are your heroes?

Growing up my hero was the TV presenter Bill Nye. I think his science communication rubbed off on me: he is why I love writing about sustainability and making it relatable. Today it would be Oprah Winfrey. I love how she shares her platform.

[See also: “I haven’t met a politician ready to do what it takes”: Greta Thunberg and Björk in conversation]

What book last changed your thinking?

Black Nature, a collection of nature poems by African Americans from the last century. Camille Dungy, who put the anthology together, argues that a lot of black poetry is considered civil rights or racial justice poetry, and then is left at that. But there are so many other major themes. There are a lot of great black nature writers, even though their work isn’t classified as such.

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Which political figure do you look up to?

I really like congresswoman Cori Bush. She is from my hometown of St Louis, Missouri, and is just unapologetically herself.

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What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

The Real Housewives franchise. I know an obscene amount. It’s what I watch when I am completely turning my brain off.

[See also: On the eradication of species]

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I would go to 1970s San Francisco or Los Angeles, or perhaps the end of the 1960s, so I could be a part of the Earth Day movement. I idealise that era.

What TV show could you not live without?

Sherlock. I really like the problem-solving – it unlocks my childhood curiosity.

Who would paint your portrait?

My sister’s girlfriend. Her name is Hannah.

What’s your theme tune?

“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. I took a guitar class and requested that we learn to play a bunch of Fleetwood Mac songs.

[See also: Dead birds falling from the sky is a bad omen for the planet]

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Just be yourself. People aren’t paying that much attention. Sometimes we’re afraid of what people think. But my mum, who is a therapist and a counsellor, told me that people are usually in their own heads.

What’s currently bugging you?

People who are mean for no reason. It takes so much energy to be mean. It takes much less to be nice.

What single thing would make your life better?

The reversal of climate catastrophe, which is a big problem. But I would settle even for clean air and clean water around the world.

When were you happiest?

These last few months when I have had a break from the work around my book and took time to find some grounding in LA.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

A veterinarian. I love animals and want them to be OK. Or maybe I’d prefer working at an animal shelter. I don’t know if I could do the surgery.

Are we all doomed?

No. Do I have proof? No. But I believe that we’ll be OK.

“The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet” by Leah Thomas is published by Souvenir Press

[See also: Shirley Collins Q+A: “Philip Pullman is God, as far as I’m concerned”]

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This article appears in the 02 Nov 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Meaning of Rishi Sunak