Rachel Carson

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Rachel Carson : biography

May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964

Carson’s supervisor, pleased with the success of the radio series, asked her to write the introduction to a public brochure about the fisheries bureau; he also worked to secure her the first full-time position that became available. Sitting for the civil service exam, she outscored all other applicants and, in 1936, became only the second woman to be hired by the Bureau of Fisheries for a full-time, professional position, as a junior aquatic biologist.

Early career and publications

At the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, Carson’s main responsibilities were to analyze and report field data on fish populations, and to write brochures and other literature for the public. Using her research and consultations with marine biologists as starting points, she also wrote a steady stream of articles for The Baltimore Sun and other newspapers. However, her family responsibilities further increased in January 1937 when her older sister died, leaving Carson as the sole breadwinner for her mother and two nieces.

In July 1937, the Atlantic Monthly accepted a revised version of an essay, "The World of Waters", that she had originally written for her first fisheries bureau brochure; her supervisor had deemed it too good for that purpose. The essay, published as "Undersea", was a vivid narrative of a journey along the ocean floor. It marked a major turning point in Carson’s writing career. Publishing house Simon & Schuster, impressed by "Undersea", contacted Carson and suggested that she expand it into book form. Several years of writing resulted in Under the Sea Wind (1941), which received excellent reviews but sold poorly. In the meantime, Carson’s article-writing success continued—her features appeared in Sun Magazine, Nature, and Collier’s.

Carson attempted to leave the Bureau (by then transformed into the Fish and Wildlife Service) in 1945, but few jobs for naturalists were available as most money for science was focused on technical fields in the wake of the Manhattan Project. In mid-1945, Carson first encountered the subject of DDT, a revolutionary new pesticide (lauded as the "insect bomb" after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) that was only beginning to undergo tests for safety and ecological effects. DDT was but one of Carson’s many writing interests at the time, and editors found the subject unappealing; she published nothing on DDT until 1962.

Carson rose within the Fish and Wildlife Service, supervising a small writing staff by 1945 and becoming chief editor of publications in 1949. Though her position provided increasing opportunities for fieldwork and freedom in choosing her writing projects, it also entailed increasingly tedious administrative responsibilities. By 1948, Carson was working on material for a second book, and had made the conscious decision to begin a transition to writing full-time. That year, she took on a literary agent, Marie Rodell; they formed a close professional relationship that would last the rest of Carson’s career.

Oxford University Press expressed interest in Carson’s book proposal for a life history of the ocean, spurring her to complete the manuscript of what would become The Sea Around Us by early 1950.. • An apocryphal story holds that the book was rejected by over twenty publishers before Oxford University Press. In fact, it may have only been sent to one other publisher before being accepted, though Rodell and Carson worked extensively to place chapters and excerpts in periodicals. Chapters appeared in Science Digest and the Yale Review—the latter chapter, "The Birth of an Island", winning the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s George Westinghouse Science Writing Prize. Nine chapters were serialized in The New Yorker beginning June 1951 and the book was published July 2, 1951, by Oxford University Press. The Sea Around Us remained on the New York Times Best Seller List for 86 weeks, was abridged by Reader’s Digest, won the 1952 National Book Award for Nonfiction. National Book Foundation. Retrieved March 19, 2012. (With acceptance speech by Carson and essay by Neil Baldwin from the Awards 50-year anniversary publications.) and the Burroughs Medal, and resulted in Carson’s being awarded two honorary doctorates. She also licensed a documentary film based on it. The Sea’s success led to the republication of Under the Sea Wind, which became a bestseller itself. With success came financial security, and Carson was able to give up her job in 1952 to concentrate on writing full-time.