David Oates PortraitMy work as a writer and teacher explores how our human world connects with the larger world of natural wildness.

We need to reconsider how we live on this planet. The next generations will face climate change, disruption,  and almost unimaginable losses. But I believe that the natural world is full of renewal. Our best hope is to consciously align ourselves with this amazing, sometimes scary force.

How to do it? By engaging the imagination.

Imagination is wild. Dreaming, writing, even building cities – these are instances of the mind’s wild ability to do what nature does: create something new. The whole self is engaged when the imagination is active: intellect – heart – body – community. Imagination is a natural resource, endlessly renewable, implanted in us and ready to spin wonders (if we let it).

My life’s work is to connect with this abundant, joyous process, and to help others do so.

Wildness is the inner life not just of writers and artists, but of anyone who has found his or her way. I am always looking to see what I can learn from other fields and disciplines, other lands and other ways of being. In particular I’m engaged with music (Schubert!), with visual art (Bill Viola, Cy Twombly, Caravaggio!), with French and German language and literature, and with the perplexing delights of “new urbanism.” All of these are expressions of human wildness. In them I think we may find many hidden clues about how we must go about reforming our polluting, acquisitive, unjust global civilization.

Recent and upcoming events

I’m happy to announce that as of early 2021 I’m a regular contributing columnist for the renowned online magazine 3 Quarks Daily. My essays appear once a month in the “Monday Magazine.” 

My new book from Oregon State University Press has won the 2021 Eric Hoffer Award in the Memoir category! It was also honored to be a finalist for the Oregon Book Award.


Our book launch at The Old Church was a memorable adventure in pipe organ plus spoken word!

With heartfelt thanks to Bruce Neswick, organist and Canon for Cathedral Music, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (Portland, Oregon).

The Old Church Book Launch

The Old Church Book Launch

The Old Church Book Launch

The Old Church Book Launch

The Old Church Book LaunchThe Old Church Book Launch


“Every Right Act is an Ark” appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of The Fourth River (publication of the Chatham University MFA in Creative Writing program). It’s a brief, intense “braided essay” about hope and despair as our world teeters on the edge of global climate disaster. See the excerpt under “New & Current Essays” (link to the right in the nav bar).

News:  Pushcart Prize nomination for this essay, November 2016.

First-place nonfiction awards for three chapters from my new book ms The Mountains of Paris: How Awe and Wonder Rewrote My Life! The journal Tiferet: Literature, Art and the Creative Spirit honored two key chapters. And the chapter “The Run: A Memnoir” won the nonfiction award from Northern Colorado Writers, as well as a Pushcart Prize nomination.

My poem sequence The Heron Place won the 2015 Swan Scythe Press Poetry Award, and was published in January 2016. I’m thrilled to get this work out into the world at last. See link to right.

A new poem “Pelican Landing at B-Reactor” appears in the Spring 2015 issue of Windfall: Poetry of Place (Portland): http://www.hevanet.com/windfall/index.html.

Poetry and a five-year exchange of “public letters” with editor Johanna Hansen appeared in the literary journal Wortschau (Düsseldorf) (2015-2019) in both English and German: http://www.wortschau.com/. These are now published separately in a Special Edition (Sonderausgabe) titled Schreiben ist eine Art von Luftwiderstand (Writing is a kind of Resistance), September 2019.

During the month of May 2015 I enjoyed a residency at Vermont Studio Center. (My thanks to RACC Regional Arts and Culture Commission for a Grant to assist in this, as well as an Artist Grant from VSC.) For the Winter/Spring Semester of 2012, I was invited to mentor a select group of emerging writers as the Kittredge Distinguished Visiting Writer of the Environmental Studies Writing Program (University of Montana, Missoula).