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Arts and Culture

New Book To Feature Writing Of Maine-Raised Climate Activist Who Died On Barefoot Trip Across U.S.

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YouTube
Mark Baumer, in a YouTube video from Day 99 of his barefoot walking trip across the U.S.

Mark Baumer struck out in 2016 on a trip across the country barefoot to raise awareness of climate change and raise funds for an environmental group, The Fang Collective, sometimes running, interacting with locals. and often hollering into his cell phone camera.

“Ah! I just realized I’m running across America barefoot! Oh! It’s really happening,” Baumer shouts in his first video documenting his journey that's uploaded to YouTube.

Baumer, a Maine-raised writer and activist, was killed four years ago after being struck by an SUV in the Florida panhandle. In addition to the barrage of online videos he posted throughout his journey, Baumer left behind numerous books, poems, stories, and blog posts.

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Fence Books
“The One on Earth: Works by Mark Baumer”

Some of those writings have been compiled into a new book, "The One on Earth: Works by Mark Baumer," released July 7 by Fence Books.

Those who knew Baumer hope the book will serve as an introduction to the writer and his work.

To his mix of diaristic writing, poetry, and prose, Baumer's YouTube videos added an element of performance art and were at times earnest, abrasive, outright goofy, and sadly prophetic.

In one clip, he asserts: “If I die on this trip, it’s not going to be because I didn’t wear shoes. It’s going to be because an automobile kills me."

His close friend and author of the new book’s forward, Claire Donato, says Baumer's blend of art and activism had vision.

“Mark was incredibly prescient in his knowledge that children would lead the fight against climate change,” said Donato, noting that Baumer’s insistence that youth engagement in climate activism preceded Greta Thunberg’s headline-grabbing work, or subsequent youth climate marches in following years.

Donato says that attention to the voice of youth is also manifest in his writing.

“Mark’s writing embodies this childlike voice, that both indicts the kind of unprocessed inner children that we see and politicians that causes such toxicity and like, pillaging of the earth,” she said. “And simultaneously speaks to like the power of a child's voice to see the world with wonder and curiosity.”

"The One on Earth," says its editor, is intended to focus on the intersection between his climate change activism and expansive writings, which like the video documentation of his barefoot journey, can be fun or searing.

“Mark’s work also captures the kind of like American malaise around, or disavowal of, climate change in a way that's like, playful, but once playful and indicting and helps us see ourselves and our own complicity,” said Donato.

Nik Slackman of Fence Books — who helped edit the book alongside Baumer’s friends and authors Blake Butler, and Shane Jones — says he was drawn to the project from the first time he encountered Baumer's work.

“He's just such a prolific and unique and, like, just this really sort of singular write. I don't know anybody else like Mark Baumer,” Slackman says.

Slackman says Baumer managed to blend his politics, writing, and outward activism in ways that could be downright weird but insightful.

"I think he took this sort of really creative, sort of almost, you know, hallucinatory approach to writing prose and poetry, and really imbued it with a social conscience, which I think is really unique," said Slackman. He, like Baumer’s earliest supporters, hopes the new book will open the door for additional attention and publication of the author’s other work.

Baumer’s parents, Jim and Mary, still live in Maine. After their son’s death they founded the Mark Baumer Sustainability Fund to help support community projects and raise awareness about the environment and social justice issues.

Jim Baumer says he’s not sure exactly where his son’s commitment to art and activism first took root. But he says the work stemmed from Mark’s view of the world as interconnected.

“I think for us, there was always this sort of, you know, conversation that we were always having as a sort of, a unit of three about, you know, what is your place in the world and what can you do, to take a larger role in that world, whether it's doing something simple like picking trash up on the beach? Or, you know, just being somebody who's a good neighbor?” said Jim Baumer

Baumer himself appeared to seek a blend of writing and activism that would elevate the good in ways that war and conflict and competition could not.

“The cool thing about this whole cross-country thing is that if it’s successful, no one loses. The net victories in the world goes up one. The number of net victories in the world goes up by one. But when you have two opposing sides going against each other, and one side loses and one side wins, the net victories in the world doesn’t go up or down, it stays the same,” said Baumer. “So it’s cool when you’re in situations where you can increase the net victories in the world.”

"The One on Earth: Works by Mark Baumer" will be published by Fence Books, Wednesday, July 7.

Corrected: July 8, 2021 at 9:22 AM EDT
Nik Slackman of Fence Books helped edit "The One on Earth: Works by Mark Baumer." A previous version of this post misidentified him as Nik Blackburn.