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Conversations with Birds

A 2023 Firecracker Award Finalist

So begins this lively collection of essays by acclaimed filmmaker and novelist Priyanka Kumar. Growing up at the feet of the Himalayas in northern India, Kumar took for granted her immersion in a lush natural world. After moving to North America as a teenager, she found herself increasingly distanced from more than human life and discouraged by the civilization she saw contributing to its destruction. It was only in her twenties, living in Los Angeles and working on films, that she began to rediscover her place in the landscape—and in the cosmos—by way of watching birds.

Tracing her movements across the American West, this stirring collection of essays brings the avian world richly to life. Kumar’s perspective is not that of a list keeper, counting and cataloguing species. Rather, from the mango-colored western tanager that rescues her from a bout of altitude sickness in Sequoia National Park to ancient sandhill cranes in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and from the snowy plovers building shallow nests with bits of shell and grass to the white-breasted nuthatch that regularly visits the apricot tree behind her family’s casita in Santa Fe, for Kumar, birds “become a portal to a more vivid, enchanted world.”

At a time when climate change, habitat loss, and the reckless use of pesticides are causing widespread extinction of species, Kumar’s reflections on these messengers from our distant past and harbingers of our future offer luminous evidence of her suggestion that “seeds of transformation lie dormant in all of our hearts. Sometimes it just takes the right bird to awaken us.”

A Publishers Weekly “Top Ten Nonfiction Book for Fall 2022”; An Apple Best Book of the Month;
Reading Group Choices Editors’ Pick; 2023 CLMP Firecracker Award Finalist

In this collection of elegant and evocative essays, a novelist reflects on the beauty and significance of birds, those animals that “become a portal to a more vivid, enchanted world.”

The New York Times

Priyanka Kumar’s outstanding and profoundly moving book Conversations with Birds … could help people around the world rewild their hearts and souls…. (A) landmark, most timely book.

Psychology Today

Priyanka Kumar lovingly narrates how encounters with birds have molded her outlook on life, family, and nature, bridging the mountains of her childhood in India to her adult wanderings in California and New Mexico. A spark was Kumar’s chance “mango-colored bird” sighting—a Western Tanager—that stirs her to “aliveness” during a near-death experience; her powerful musings take off from there. Her writing is full of beauty but also tells of destruction of the interconnected ecosystems that sustain birds and people. “Sometimes it just takes the right bird to awaken us,” she writes.

Audubon

PRIYANKA KUMAR is the award-winning author of “Conversations with Birds,” widely acclaimed as “a landmark book” that “could help people around the world rewild their hearts and souls” (Psychology Today). “Conversations with Birds” is a finalist for the 2023 CLMP Firecracker Award for a book that makes a significant contribution to our literary culture. Kumar’s essays and criticism appear in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Orion, and The Rumpus. Her work has been featured on CBS News Radio, Yale Climate Connections, and Oprah Daily. She is a recipient of an Aldo & Estella Leopold Writing Residency, an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Award, a New Mexico/New Visions Governor’s Award, a Canada Council for the Arts Grant, and an Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Fellowship. Kumar holds an MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and is an alumna of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She has taught at the University of Southern California and the University of California Santa Cruz. Kumar wrote, directed, and produced the feature documentary “The Song of the Little Road,” starring Martin Scorsese and Ravi Shankar.

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