A student’s climate fictional story examines environmental issues through a human lens


“Orphan Bird,” written by graduate student Leah Newsom, featured in ASU climate fiction anthology

A young pregnant woman paces around a huge lake in Southern California, ogling the dead tilapia lining the beach and “hoping that what destroyed the water doesn’t destroy her baby.”

This scene, which highlights the effects of man-made damage to the Salton Sea in California, is taken from the story “Orphan Bird” by Leah Newsom, a graduate student in creative writing at ASU.

The story was one of many featured in the second volume of ASU’s “Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction”, a collection of stories aimed at portraying “the heartbreak caused by the damage caused by climate change. to a particular place and culture, ”science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson wrote in the book’s preface.

Robinson, Hugo’s award-winning author and senior judge for anthology submissions, pointed to both the power and shortcomings of science in tackling environmental problems.

“Science can understand how the physical world works and how to manipulate this physical world,” he said. “But when it comes to what we should be doing as a civilization, the sciences look to the humanities and the values ​​of people. The scientific community is like Frankenstein waiting for the brain to tell it what to do.

The anthology, the result of a partnership between the Center for Science and the Imagination and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, is free to download online.

Newsom said it was a project that could only have happened at ASU.

“For two centers to come together and create something as unique as this anthology, bringing together writers from all over the world, I think it’s an amazing thing and something that would only really happen here,” a- she declared.

The Salton Sea, which Newsom has described as “a mass grave,” is shrinking rapidly due to water transfer agreements that direct more water to cities, causing a host of environmental problems, according to an article in USA Today.

Joey Eschrich, program director and editor for the Center for Science and the Imagination and co-editor of the anthology, said the themes of Newsom’s story were reflected in other submissions as well.

“There were a lot of stories about fertility and childbirth and the human body being a precarious site in the face of destabilizing climate change and environmental collapse,” Eschrich said.

Angie Dell, associate director of the Piper Center and another co-editor of the anthology, said “Orphan Bird” was unique because it addressed climate change less through hard science and more through human connection.

“Her story was so much about love and human relationships,” Dell said. “This desire to have a family and to see a future through the family was so moving for me.”

Newsom said “Orphan Bird” was his first foray into climate fiction. While not her usual genre, she said she believes climate fiction is important in making scientific knowledge accessible and digestible.

“(Climate change) is so complex that it may be easier for someone to say ‘I don’t get it, I’m just going to pretend it’s not a problem,’” Newsom said. “Environmental fiction has a way of bringing people’s thoughts into this larger world of understanding that they might not have access to or be so overwhelmed that they will not enter.”

Eschrich shared Newsom’s take on accessibility, adding that fiction and the humanities generate much-needed empathy for others affected by climate change.

“Fiction, art and storytelling are a way to improve empathy for others and put people in other people’s shoes, which is really important when it comes to climate change,” Eschrich said. . “Climate change is a great monolithic force, but it also looks different in every place it occurs. “

For Dell, the emotional connection to the issues is an integral part of the environmental movement.

“If we can’t feel this emotional pull in these important scientific issues and in these potential futures,” Dell said, “then I don’t think people will be able to stay engaged and care about the things that aren’t. have no direct impact. them.”

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