In this month’s newsletter I have for you an interview with Angie Dell and Joey Eschrich, the editors of a new –and free – collection of climate fiction stories. Based out of Arizona State University, the editors have just released the third in their series, Everything Change.
I spoke with Angie and Joey about what inspired their climate-fiction project, how this third collection differs from previous ones, and what they hope readers take away from the stories they publish.
Let’s start with some background. What are the Everything Change anthologies?
These free, digital anthologies collect the winning stories from our global Everything Change climate fiction contests, which we’ve been hosting every two years since 2016. They feature short fiction, in a wide range of styles and tones, from authors hailing from around the world. For example, this third anthology features fiction by authors based in Australia, Nigeria, the Philippines, and the United States. This book also includes stunning illustrations by João Queiroz, who is based in Brazil. We drew the title of the series from a quote by Margaret Atwood, who was our first special guest lecturer for the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative at Arizona State University, back in 2014.
You just released your third anthology in the series. How does it differ from the earlier ones?
This time around, we centered our call for submissions on planetary boundaries, a framework created by researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Australian National University. The boundaries, which include the climate crisis but also issues like pollution, land use, water resources, and biodiversity, together define a “safe operating space” for humanity on Earth. We asked our writers to imagine futures where human communities and societies actually respect and live within these boundaries, with special attention to how adapting to the climate crisis and living in more sustainable ways would reshape politics, culture, relationships, and identities – all of the messiness of human lives. We also invited authors to think about efforts to restore damage already done to the planet and its ecosystems, and to deliberate on issues of justice and equity.
Did anything surprise you about the ones that you chose to include?
We were looking for stories that responded to the planetary boundaries theme and in some way presented a working future within the scope of drastic change, knowing that would be a challenge. And, as expected, many of the stories we received did not address the prompt directly, and instead emphasized the immense grief surrounding climate change without necessarily envisioning the solutions and systems needed to carry forward. What surprised us in this was how many of these stories offered a deeply compelling glimpse of a new normal, and how personal, individual experience still provided a clear vision for a wildly different and yet recognizable future. Instead of societal and natural landscapes, these stories were grappling with emotional landscapes in a way that was resonant and illuminating. In that way, they fit with our intentions for the theme while working outside of it, and felt necessary to include in the collection.
What other themes emerged from this collection?
There were a number of themes that became clear in what was submitted and selected for inclusion. Bodies of water, and in particular the ocean, were common as a site of both mystery and anxiety. Similarly, oceanic creatures and humans navigating the water appeared often, representing the emergence of previously unseen impacts of climate change. In previous years, we read many stories that examine the responsibility and anxieties of childbirth, and while birth and motherhood continued as themes this year, it was again from the perspective of dealing with the repercussions – what life cycles become when renewal is no longer a part of the equation.
What do you hope readers take away from these stories?
We believe that fiction about the climate crisis can be a space for thinking beyond our immediate anxieties and daily challenges and exploring a variety of possible futures. Our decisions – especially those at the level of communities, societies, and our global civilization – will determine the kind of climate futures that we end up living in together. Climate fiction stories provide a panoply of snapshots of how it might feel to live in different futures shaped by our responses to the crisis, or our inaction, and they give us a chance to think through how our culture, styles of governance, and even ways of living daily life could be remade. And we hope that those literary experiences are a basis for conversation about climate action today and tomorrow, and an invitation for people to share their own stories and perspectives.
Climate fiction is also unique because it’s a style of storytelling that responds overtly to an unfolding global crisis, and one that is both multifarious and monolithic. The climate crisis looks different depending on where you are and who you are, what kinds of access to power and privilege you might have. But it’s also one big thing that we’re all living through together. We hope that reading these stories broadens people’s perspectives on the crisis and the effects it has on the lives of people whose experiences are quite different from their own. We’re going to need to connect our diverse experiences of climate stress and transformation if we hope to move fast enough, and with enough global cooperation and coordination, to prevent the worst consequences of climate change. We also need to grapple with how the climate crisis intensifies existing inequalities, entrenching power imbalances, with poor and marginalized people most vulnerable to climate chaos. So we hope that these stories are a small part of that project, to build global solidarity around the climate crisis, and to extend understanding and recognition across borders and staggering disparities of wealth, class, and status.
What role do you see climate fiction playing in our broader discussion of climate change?
We don’t imagine that climate fiction has the ability to change everyone’s minds, or to reach and influence audiences who choose to ignore the realities of climate change. But what it can do is stimulate the imagination into thinking through and coping with change in order to envision possibilities and solutions. This is why fiction is a useful tool for social and environmental justice – it can help us practice and imagine realities outside our own, whether through the experience of an individual wholly unlike ourselves, or the experience of a future that is radically different from the present.
Will there be additional contests in the future?
Since 2016, we’ve been hosting an Everything Change contest every other year, and publishing an anthology in the years in between. In 2021, we’ll be focusing on spreading the word about Everything Change, Volume III, working to get it out in front of as many readers as we can. We’re not sure yet, but we hope to host another contest in 2022. If we can pull it together, it will be fascinating to see how people are thinking differently about the climate crisis, and human responses to it, in the wake of the COP26 global climate summit, which will take place in November 2021 in Scotland.
Amy Brady is the Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books. Her writing about art, culture, and climate has appeared in the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Times, Pacific Standard, the New Republic, and other places. She is also the editor of the monthly newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. She holds a PHD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at AmyBradyWrites.com at and follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.