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Climate change is scary, and cli-fi short stories are here to help
“Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming whether you like it or not.” — Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, age 18
Change is coming, both in the climate, and with luck, in human behavior. Reading about climate change is frightening, and sometimes shuts people down. But as many climate activists have explained, there is hope.
Environmental and animal activist Jane Goodall said it well: “I do have reasons for hope: our clever brains, the resilience of nature, the indomitable human spirit, and above all, the commitment of young people when they’re empowered to take action.”
But reading alarmist nonfiction doesn’t always reach the heart. Story, however, seems to sneak through our defenses and climb straight into our souls. Climate fiction, a genre of literature sometimes shortened to “cli-fi,” pioneered with J. G. Ballard’s novels of climate change (especially the 1962 classic The Drowned World) and Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune.
Since March 2019, HoCoPoLitSo and climate educator Julie Dunlap have led a climate fiction book club through the Howard County Library. Attenders are interested in literature that explores the facts and mysteries of Earth’s changing climate, and have read and discussed eight incredible novels over two years.
We’re mixing things up in January, and have chosen to read the award winners of a climate fiction short story contest sponsored by Grist Magazine’s Fix Solutions Lab. Organizers of the contest, Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors, urged writers to envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress.
Sponsored by the National Resources Defense Council, the contest is “an uprising of imagination,” as Fix describes it. The winning stories, a collection of a dozen short pieces of fiction by authors including Black, Indigenous, disabled, and queer authors, conjure hope, anger, frustration, joy, and contemplation about the future of our planet in the impending climate crisis.
“Whether built on abundance or adaptation, reform or a new understanding of survival, these stories provide flickers of hope, even joy, and serve as a springboard for exploring how fiction can help create a better reality,” writes Tory Stephens, who works at Fix and spearheaded the contest.
Join us in reading a dozen of these stories and discussing them on Jan. 6, 7 to 8 p.m., at the Miller Branch Library. Register here. The stories, and a terrific glossary of cli-fi terms, including afrofuturism (looking at you Octavia Butler), solar punk and ecotopia, are available here.
blog post by Susan Thornton Hobby, HoCoPoLitSo recording secretary and a leader of the Inconvenient Book Club
Summer library program kicks off with transformation, poetry, and anime
HoCoPoLitSo and the Bauder Writer-in-Residence, poet Steven Leyva, will add a little lyricism to the Howard County Library System’s summer reading kickoff.
On Wednesday, June 23, 1 to 2 p.m. Leyva, an award-winning poet and professor, will offer a writing workshop and pep talk, The Poetics of Anime and Transformation.
Like the way Goku reinvents himself to save the day in Dragon Ball Z, or how Studio Ghibli turns out inventive, true-to-life but also bizarro anime? Learn how the techniques of anime – invention, creativity, and transformation—can ignite your writer’s imagination.
Anime enthusiast (his children are named after Naruto characters, so he’s all-in) Leyva wants people to see poetry as an experience to be had, like watching anime, not a riddle to be solved.
Besides his anime and manga fan status, Leyva is also an award-winning poet, an assistant professor at the University of Baltimore, and a former English teacher in Baltimore City public schools. His newest book, The Understudy’s Handbook, was chosen as the winner of the 2020 Jean Feldman Poetry Award by Washington Writers’ Publishing House.
Register in advance to receive the link to the virtual workshop.
have lunch with the poets
a blog post by Susan Thornton Hobby
Have lunch with the poets,
the library, and HoCoPoLitSo
during National Poetry Month
“I don’t write out of what I know; I write out of what I wonder. I think most artists create art in order to explore, not to give the answers. Poetry and art are not about answers to me: they are about questions.” — Lucille Clifton
Lots of people think they need to know what a poem means. Sometimes professors and experts dissect a poem so much that a poem dies before we allow it to live. But what if a poem was written not to answer questions, but to ask them?
Lucille Clifton, a National Book Award-winning poet, wrote from her home office in a townhouse in Columbia for decades until her death in 2010. And she never stopped asking questions with her poetry.
Soon after the Howard County Central Library opened in 1981, Clifton read her poetry with three other amazing poets, William Stafford, Roland Flint, and current Maryland Poet Laureate Grace Cavalieri. HoCoPoLitSo brought those poets and library patrons together forty years ago, and we’re still collaborating today.
Join HoCoPoLitSo and the library for their newest program, a lunch break of poetry every Tuesday in April.
The “Po” in HoCoPoLitSo stands for Poetry (the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society). But sometimes, when we talk about poetry, people’s eyes glaze over. Occasionally (or more often …) poetry just seems impenetrable.
But it doesn’t have to be. Clifton’s poetry is accessible, understood at a first reading, with meaning that grows deeper at second or third reading, prompting those questions that bring readers to her poetry over and over again.
Once we’ve hooked you with Clifton’s work, we have plenty of other ideas of where to start with poetry. Perhaps with Amanda Gorman’s performance at President Joe Biden’s inauguration and at the Super Bowl, more people are intrigued about poetry, but don’t really know where to go for good poetry beyond inspirational quotes on Instagram. We’ve got your poetry questions covered.
The library and HoCoPoLitSo have partnered for forty years to bring poetry and literature to Howard County audiences. Over those decades, we have together sponsored movies about Gwendolyn Brooks and Seamus Heaney, organized readings by poets such as Josephine Jacobsen and Stanley Kunitz, judged student poetry contests, and even staged a play about poet Emily Dickinson, “The Belle of Amherst.”
And since National Library Week (April 4-10) coincides with National Poetry Month in April, HoCoPoLitSo and the library system thought it would be the perfect time to launch a new program. Every Tuesday in April, HoCoPoLitSo and the library will collaborate to bring you a little lunchtime buffet of poetry, virtually. I’m Susan Thornton Hobby, a proud library volunteer and HoCoPoLitSo board member and consultant, and with the library’s support, I’ve coordinated this April poetry feast.
When the pandemic closed everyone’s doors, HoCoPoLitSo created a new video series, both to reach out to people at home who were hungry for the arts, and to amplify the voices of Black poets who have visited HoCoPoLitSo audiences since 1974. With the help of Howard Community College’s Arts Collective, and director Sue Kramer, we produced the Poetry Moment series. Local actors Chania Hudson, Shawn Sebastian Naar, and Sarah Luckadoo offer introductions, then famous poets like Clifton and Kunitz and Heaney and Brooks read their work, with selections extracted from archival video. Ellen Conroy Kennedy, the late founding director and heart and soul of HoCoPoLitSo, started this archive in 1986 when she began documenting the poetry and literature programs she was producing. The Writing Life resulted, with more than 100 full interviews with authors carried on HoCoPoLitSo’s YouTube page.
In April, every Tuesday at noon, we’ll gather virtually to talk poetry. We’ve grouped the poems by theme for each week, and will talk a little about poetry, then watch the videos together and discuss.
Here’s our poetry hit parade:
- Tuesday, April 6: We’ll talk about grief, something many people are dealing with this year. Poems we’ll be discussing include “Elegy” by Linda Pastan, “My Deepest Condiments” by Taylor Mali, and “The Long Boat” by Stanley Kunitz.
- Tuesday, April 13: History is this week’s theme, and we’ll talk about Sterling Allen Brown’s “Southern Road,” read by poet Toi Derricotte, “In the Tradition” by Amiri Baraka, and “Requiem” by Anna Akhmatova, read by poet Carolyn Forché.
- Tuesday, April 20: Many contemporary poets turn to their families as sources for poetry. The poems we’ll read this week are “good times” by Lucille Clifton, “The Pomegranate” by Eavan Boland, and “A Final Thing” by Li-Young Lee.
- Tuesday, April 27: Our last week is centered on pep talks in poetry, verse to lift us up and give us strength. We’ll discuss “The Solstice” by W. S. Merwin, “For Every One” by Jason Reynolds, and “I Give You Back” by Joy Harjo.
HoCoPoLitSo and the Howard County Library System are happy to collaborate in bringing poetry to all who ask questions, to any who believe, like we do, that words can change the world.
If we hook you on poetry, consider tuning in to the April 29 Blackbird Poetry Festival, featuring Ilya Kaminsky and sponsored by Howard Community College and HoCoPoLitSo.
Register for the library lunch poetry programs here.
Back away from the pantry, pick up a book.
Libraries are closed. Readings are canceled. Thriftbooks is backed up. Heck, even Busboys & Poets is closed, except for delivery. For writers and readers, all distractions have been eliminated, besides the refrigerator and your family members.
You have weeks in your four walls to write that novel, nail down your collection of poems, or finish your fat book of essays.
You have piles of books on nightstands, shelves, and stacked on the floor (mea culpa) and now have time to read them all.
Ah, but the motivation. Where did you put that? Under the stacks of toilet paper? Behind the boxes of pasta?
Don’t worry, we’ve kept some in the back for you.
Below is a list of resources for those who want to capitalize on this time. And for those of us who usually exist like they’re living in a pandemic (yes, all you freelance writers and editors in your sweatpants, I’m talking to you), here’s a refresher list.
- Howard County Library offers electronic versions of books, audiobooks, even eMagazines. (They have on-line every version of National Geographic from 1888 to the present, that should keep you busy.) Library patrons can even learn a language.: https://hclibrary.org/research/
- The library is even hosting virtual book clubs, only two so far, their Global Reads and Mystery clubs: http://hclibrary.org/classes-events/
- A number of electronic reading sites are offering 30 days free, including Scribd: https://www.scribd.com/?lohp=2
- And Overdrive and Libby, through the library, are always free. Hop on those waiting lists: https://www.overdrive.com/apps/libby/
- The Library of Congress has a huge cache of resources. They offer tons of classics on-line, and if now isn’t a time to catch up on Jane Austen, I don’t know when would be better: http://read.gov/books/index.html#adults
- The LoC also has videos of author visits, and suggested book lists by genre.
- Enoch Pratt is offering live chats with a librarian, and who wouldn’t want to do that? https://www.prattlibrary.org/ask/
- •NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is moving its focus from just November and summer camp to launch StayHomeWriMo, which offers coping strategies, motivational speeches, writing tips and more: https://nanowrimo.org/stayhomewrimo?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=HQ%2020%20-%20StayHomeWriMo&utm_content=HQ%2020%20-%20StayHomeWriMo+CID_c5c73afc9fc4af274a8d991c0fa1f2fe&utm_source=Email%20marketi
- And Maryland’s own Writer’s Center is offering all its classes online now: https://www.writer.org/
- Just need a jump start? How about some writing prompts:
Back away from the pantry and the television. Read and write. Literature eases the mind in times of trouble. There’s a reason that the Greeks inscribed above the library in Thebes that this place was a “healing place for the soul.” Books can take you places outside your own experience (and four walls), and reading increases empathy, according to brain science. We’re going to need it.
If all else fails, and you simply cannot imagine an end to this confinement, try reading letters from people who were living through the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918: https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/influenza-epidemic/records-list.html