Journal of Writing & Environment

From the Rockies to Right Whales: the Aesthetic Places of Kelly Slivka

Interview by Cathleen Chittenden Bascom

Flyway managing editor Kelly Slivka calls the open, arid landscape of the Colorado Rockies home. A rooted familiarity with the region comes through in small indicators like the absence of insects or the constant need for lotion. Slivka knows intimately the details of the mountains and canyonlands of the western United States.

“I totally ascribe,” Slivka says, “to the idea that West is best.”

Yet, even as a very small child, Slivka was also profoundly drawn to the ocean.

“When I was just a baby, my mom took me to the ocean in Hawaii,” Slivka said. “She says she knew right then she was going to lose me to the ocean someday. And that’s what happened. I love Denver and the Rockies, but my future will be near water.”

For three years as a trained ecologist specializing in large whale biology, Slivka followed the seasonal migratory paths of humpback and right whales. From Boston to the whale calving grounds of northern Florida and Georgia, Slivka worked on a converted lobster boat doing I.D. and behavioral studies.

Just as the large scale of the landscape west of the Rockies resonates with Slivka, so does the scale of the  “dark, brooding, roiling, slate-green” sea of the north Atlantic. As for Melville, for Slivka the aggressive, northern  ocean “seems to speak of some hidden soul beneath.”

“Certain earthscapes have that existential nature that puts us in our place. To me it’s comforting to confront our own smallness.”

Maybe it comes from gazing into the sky from the deck of a boat, but when asked about recent writing that impresses her, Slivka lauds Cloud Atlas, the 2004 novel by David Mitchell. She said she appreciates the caliber of the storytelling, especially the narrative complexity evident as the author weaves five or six stories together.

For Flyway, Slivka seeks well-crafted, ripe pieces “that are redolent of their environment.” Even when place isn’t the point, Slivka seeks settings fully portrayed sensually, full of textures and odors as well as visual specificity.

“I like it when place is like a living thing.”