Ruth Ozeki, Amplifier
New York magazine|September 13 - 26, 2021
Her latest novel teems with voices—most of them belonging to what she might call “nonhuman persons.” The book of form and emptiness is out September 21.
Helen Shaw

WHEN I VISITED author and Zen Buddhist priest Ruth Ozeki in Northampton, Massachusetts, in late July, she took me to see the trees. All spring and summer, she and her neighbors had been trying to protect a little grove of serious old cherries from the city’s repaving plan. Ozeki and others had recently ordained ten of the trees as fellow priests, complete with full ceremonial rites—a desperate, last-ditch move that had sometimes saved forests in Thailand. It didn’t work. When the city chopped the stand down later that month, the director of the Department of Public Works had to tear the trees’ garlands and robes off first.

Despite the rites, the letters to the editor, and the march to City Hall, Ozeki kept assuring me that she is mild-mannered. “I am the most conflict-averse person I know,” she said. The writer, who became a Zen priest in 2010, won’t cut the milkweed around her front door because monarch butterflies might need it during their migration. Her home is filled with plants and cats; in my short time there, she offered me cookies, sparkling water, a splash of wine, and melon in a ceramic bowl she made herself. She wore a collarless linen shirt, clogs, and a brass pen on a chain. But mild she is not. The trick is that Ozeki, now 65, lived at least four lives before she even started writing.

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