NEW REPUBLIC -- Solnit was born in 1961 to a family she identifies both as “far left” and “violent.” She assiduously avoids many specifics, in part to protect her three siblings’ privacy, but both her writing and her interviews make it clear that her parents’ behavior was abusive. Growing up in California, she was a “scrawny, miserable, impoverished, marginalized, unpopular teenager” who left home with a GED at 17, briefly escaped to Paris, where she was sometimes too poor to eat, came home to graduate from San Francisco State University, then earned a Master’s in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley. She found work as an editor and art critic; her first book, now out of print, profiled six Californian visual artists of the 1950s.
Growing up, Solnit’s “feminism waxed and waned,” she wrote in 2014. Her mother’s Ms. magazine subscription sparked her interest, and as a teen she felt anger at being harassed on the street. But her early works established landscape and wandering as her major themes. With her second book, Savage Dreams, she explored the history of Yosemite National Park, the Nevada Test Site, and America’s ongoing war on indigenous people. Her third book detailed her travels through Ireland, tracing the country’s “tides of invasion, colonization, emigration, nomadism, and tourism.”