Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin was born to South Indian parents who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970’s. Her family embraced America’s outdoor culture and Rajagopal-Durbin grew up camping, hiking, and road tripping to National Parks. In her adult life, she worked as an engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and spent a decade working as a lawyer. In 2010, she made a huge life change. “I decided I needed to work with an organization whose mission and vision matched my core values, where I would feel like I was really making the world a better place, and where I had the quality of life that would allow me to spend time in the outdoors,” she says.
So she quit her law firm job and took a gig as the National Outdoor Leadership School’s diversity and inclusion manager, helping to bring people from all backgrounds into the outdoors. Today, she’s the founding partner of the Avarna Group, an organization she and a partner launched in 2015 that helps outdoor and environmental companies attract and engage a diverse range of people. We asked her what’s on her bedside table.
Collection of Essays
"Wildness: Relations of People and Place is a really cool book that contains different perspectives on people’s relationships with wildness instead of wilderness. I’m using it in my work as an example of how the conservation movement can expand what conservation can look like to honor more connections to land, especially indigenous connections to land."
Book About Race Theory
"I’m re-reading Carolyn Finney’s book Black Faces, White Spaces because it’s just an amazing read. The book talks about the multitude of connections African Americans have with the outdoors, be it through farming, or through community trauma resulting from a history of lynching in outdoor spaces."
Social Justice Book
"Storytelling for Social Justice talks about how storytelling is a powerful vehicle to talk about difficult topics like race and racism. In my work, I’m constantly trying to find ways to connect with people and have difficult conversations to shift paradigms, and storytelling is one of those ways that I’m trying to build those connections. This book talks about how there are some stock stories, like stock photos, that we tell and concealed stories that we have a responsibility to unearth to complicate the narrative."
Homeopathic Sleep Aid
"I use Hyland’s Calms Forté, a natural product that helps with insomnia and nighttime anxiety."
"NOLS Backcountry lip balm is seriously the best lip balm I’ve ever owned. It’s amazing stuff, even in the dryness of the Sierra and Rocky Mountains."
Young Adult Sci-Fi
"I have my son’s copy of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising on my bedside table. I’m a sucker for sci-fi and fantasy books. My 10-year-old son is just getting into all of the series I read as a kid, and this is one of them. I stole this from him to re-read it."
Self Help Book
"I haven’t started reading Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds yet but many of my friends and colleagues keep telling me it’s going to blow my mind. The book talks about how important it is to move at the speed of trust. This is something I need to work on and that we constantly urge our clients to think about as they build partnerships."
"A bottle of DoTerra Lavender essential oil smells delicious and helps me sleep. I also use a diffuser sometimes so the room can smell like lavender all night."
"I keep a mug of Traditional Medicinals’ Throat Coat tea."