From the Los Angeles Review of Books:
EVERETT HAMNER: One of my favorite aspects of your National Book Award–winning The Echo Maker, published a dozen years ago now, is the way its birds are not anthropomorphized so much as its human characters are zoomorphized: we find the public “banking and wheeling in such perfect synchrony,” a man who has “grown as placid as a bottom feeder,” and another dancing like a “clumsy, autumn-honking fledgling.” In short, there is no humanism here without an even larger biocentrism. How was this relationship evolving as you began to imagine The Overstory, and how did it matter — or not — that the interspecies tie is not just to other animals, but to trees?
RICHARD POWERS: If anything, the intervening dozen years have deepened my desire to close the gap between people and other living things. The Echo Makerdealt in the strange intelligence of birds, an intelligence deep and foreign enough to be invisible to many of us. But it was also a story of forgotten kinship with creatures who have stunning navigational and problem-solving skills, who keep a complex and shared calendar, who gather in great communities and dance together and mate for life and sacrifice themselves for their young.
The Overstory may present an even greater challenge to the sense of exceptionalism we humans carry around inside us. It’s the story of immense, long-lived creatures whom many people think of as little more than simple automatons, but who, in fact, communicate and synchronize with each other both over the air and through complex underground networks, who trade with and protect and sustain their own and other species. It’s about immensely social beings with memory and agency who migrate and transform the soil and regulate the weather and create a breathable atmosphere. As the great Le Guin put it, the word for world is forest.
Our kinship with trees seems, at face value, much more distant and abstract, but we share a considerable amount of our genes with them, and they (trees come from many different families in their own right) represent several large branches of the single, ramifying experiment called life on earth, a big-boled thing on which we humans occupy just one small and remote branch.