Native Air

In a debut novel from Green Writers Press by Jonathan Howland, the austere beauty and high exposure of mountain adventure provide the context and the measure for what it means to be alive for climbing partners Joe Holland and Pete Hunter – until one of them isn’t.

When the book opens, it’s the mid-80s. Joe Holland, the novel’s narrator, is a climber and a seeker, but mostly he’s Pete Hunter’s shadow. The two meet in college and spend the next ten years living at the base of any rock that appears scalable, most of them near Yosemite and California’s High Sierra.

The joys and strains of their friendship comprise the novel’s first half. In the second, the bare bones–obsession, grief, love, and repair—come into stark relief when Pete’s grown son Will calls Joe back into climbing, into the past, and into breathless vitality. 

Native Air is itself a climb, tracing physical acts in a vertical domain as well as the life events stitched between adventures that yoke them. When Will summons Joe back to the mountains, it’s Joe’s chance to recover something true, to mourn his friend, and to fall in love with wonders nearer to heaven than any steeple. The past and present press upon each other like a folded clock.

Readers of this book are doers as well as fans of those who entertain risk and nurse obsession. They get lost and found in Muir essays and Knausgaard. They admire Annie Proulx, Norman Maclean, and Russell Banks. According to climber-author Dan Duane, “Native Air belongs on the bookshelf of anyone whose heart registers the beauty and danger of exposure.”

Advance Praise

“You know there are people whose obsession is big-wall climbing. You may have seen the documentaries, read the articles, perhaps even read a memoir. But you’ve never read anything that takes you so deep inside the anchoritic psyche of helpless, abject cliff worship. The narrator is ambivalent and supremely observant, his partner the absolutist. See Ishmael and Ahab, Sal Paradiso and Dean Moriarty. This is literary fiction of a high order, with a physical immediacy and specificity that never let up, and then a riveting next-generation denouement. The final top-out will destroy you. Climb on.”
—William Finnegan, The New Yorker; author of Barbarian Days

“As a lifelong climber, climbing writer, and student of mountaineering literature, I want the world to know: Jonathan Howland’s Native Air is the novel that we American climbers and readers of serious fiction have been waiting for. This book is the first true literary deep dive into the austere beauty, deep friendships and high emotional cost of the lives we’ve all led in America’s great empty spaces, tilting at mysterious windmills, chasing truths and dreams we can never quite name. Howland is the real deal—as a climber, a writer, and a deep thinker about the human condition. Native Air belongs on the bookshelf of not just every climber but anyone whose heart registers the beauty and danger of exposure.”
—Daniel Duane, author of Lighting Out, A Golden Year in Yosemite and the West, and A Mouth Like Yours

Media & Appearances

“I’ll tap a few local authors who travel under the best-selling-novelist radar but whose debut books deserve attention. Bay Area-based Jonathan Howland’s Native Air comes courtesy of the small, woman-owned, Vermont-based Green Writers Press. Howland spent 36 years teaching and working in independent schools and decades climbing in the Western United States. The narrative, set in the mid-’80s, involves two men who meet in college and spend 10 years living at the base of scalable rocks, many of them near Yosemite and California’s High Sierra. Their friendship is constructed on a shared obsession for climbing, but universal relevance arrives as actions and memories lead them to encounter grief, love, the thrill of adventure, and more.”
—Lou Fancher, Reviewer, East Bay Express (link)

Climbing Magazine: A short feature by Climbing editor, Alison Osius, former president of the American Alpine Club, will appear in the January issue. In the February issue, she is writing an Introduction and running a book excerpt.

About the Author
Jonathan Howland lives in San Francisco. After 36 years’ teaching and working in independent schools, he now alternates between climbing trips in western states and writing, gardening, and playing with two grandchildren at home. Also: cooking, yoga-ing, and coyote-sighting in the Presidio of San Francisco, which he frequents with Courtney and their dog Ike. His favorite writers include Melville and Morrison and Marlon James, Faulkner and Woolf and Chekhov, though if limited to just one, Emily Dickinson. Visit:
Author photo by Erin Neff. 

Author climbing photos by Chris McElheny.






About the Cover Artist & Designer
Hughen/Starkweather is the collaboration of San Francisco artists Jennifer Starkweather and Amanda Hughen. Their site-specific, research-based artworks reinterpret complex narratives about a place using new and unexpected forms. Recent work involves investigating the past, present, and possible futures of places where water meets land through the lens of climate change.

Exhibitions include the Asian Art Museum, the Public Policy Institute of California, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the University of San Francisco. Residencies include the DeYoung Museum, Headlands, Recology, Skowhegan, Ucross, and Yaddo. Recent large-scale art commissions have included SFMOMA for Chase Center and the San Francisco Central Subway Station at Union Square. Starkweather received an MFA from Tyler School of Art; Hughen received an MFA from the University of California, Berkeley. This is their first book cover.

380 pages; 6 x 9 / Hardcover
$24.95 print / $9.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1-950584-90-1  (print)
ISBN: 978-1-950584-89-5 (e-book)
Publication Date: March 22, 2022
Distributor: IPG / Chicago
Rights sold: All rights available.
Rights contact: Dede Cummings

Distributor: IPG; also available through Ingram, Follett/Baker & Taylor, and other wholesalers.

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