Jan DeBlieu speaks to UNF students about people’s sense of place


Jan DeBlieu said she thinks people only need three things in order to achieve happiness: meaningful work, meaningful human relationships and a meaningful relationship with their environment.

UNF invited DeBlieu to speak at the University Center Oct. 15 where she gave a lecture titled “Sleeping with the Enemy: How Liberals and Conservatives Joined Forces to Save the Outer Banks.”

Seasoned Author and Cape Hatteris Coastkeeper for the nonprofit North Carolina Coastal Federation, DeBlieu spent time at UNF last week to give her lecture as well as to circulate the English department speaking to students about her novel “Wind.”

“She obviously puts so much into her writing. It was so incredibly interesting, very outside the box. In my class she mainly enlightened us to how animals use wind, and it was fascinating,” Tom Giamo, a UNF English senior, said.

DeBlieu began her writing career as a newspaper reporter in her hometown of Wilmington, Dela. where an editor assigned her to a beat and she loved it, but DeBlieu didn’t necessarily fall in love with her environment, she said.

In her early 20s, she moved to Oregon for a job and cultivated an immense fixation with people’s attachments and relationships with their landscapes.

“We all have this real need to be comfortable, and I didn’t know it at the time, but I hadn’t really found home yet,” DeBlieu said.

After dubbing a series of places “home” and not exactly feeling at home, she traveled to the North Carolinian Outer Banks in 1985, instigated by a writing assignment after landing a book contract. She intended to write about the Carolinian coast.

“I thought it would be a good place to perch for a while,” she said. “It sounded so romantic.”

She went on to explain that after almost no time, she knew the place had chosen her, and there she fell in love with her landscape, she said.

“What I found out there is that although I had thought I’d like to write fiction, what came about from all of my writing experience is that you can’t make up anything more interesting than what people are actually doing, so I stuck to non-fiction,” DeBlieu said.

Contrary to what she expected, her “urban-liberal” classification coexisted quite nicely with the plainspoken farmers and fisherman that knew and appreciated nature.

They agreed on everything but the politics, she said.

While she wrote her first book, “Hatteras Journal” and started to establish herself as an environmental activist with the North Carolina Coastal Federation, she met UNF Biology Department Head Courtney Hackney, who visited the area at that time and ended up as a character in the book.

She formed an environmental advocacy coalition, which worked to reestablish the oyster reefs, put the hydrology back into place and made the landscape more resilient overall. She said she decided to avoid politics.

“I aimed to reveal to the locals how this progressive change would benefit their work, and from there we created this sort of simpatico — and really started to make things happen,” she said.

DeBlieu said she thinks it’s important to develop unusual alliances, and believes that notion to be the future of conservation.

She considers the most monumental success for her grassroots organization when they won the fight against oil companies who tried to drill off the Outer Banks in the late 1980s.

“They backed down, and we won!” DeBlieu said.

Ever since, she continues to engage herself with many projects that have contributed to protecting her beloved coast.

At the University of Deleware she earned a liberal arts degree. While there, she studied a variety of things, including political science, history, economics and journalism.

And although she never received any formal environmental training, she has acquired much knowledge along her journey.

“I met her when she was a fresh-faced journalist, and now she is, in my opinion, one of the best science writers of our time,” Hackney said.

DeBlieu has published three books to date: “Meant to be Wild,” “Wind” and “Year of the Comets: A Journey from Sadness to the Stars,” all of which have received prestigious recognition from the science and writing community.