How can writers, poets and publishers respond to climate change? More to the point, what might an adequate response look like? Issue 3 of The Lit brings together illuminating voices from across the literary world, from bestselling novelists to aspiring poets, as we seek to shed some light on these difficult questions.
Central to our approach in editing this issue was the desire to open up conversations. In this spirit we embarked, as editors, on our first foray into collaborative writing, batting backwards and forwards between us what might at first seem an academic or abstract question, but one which becomes increasingly consequential the more you think about it: what does it mean for ‘climate fiction’ to be defined as a genre?
We ended up with, if not a final answer to the question, then at least a kind of placeholder harmony between our different perspectives, and some suggestions for how genre, the Anthropocene and the literary might be thought of together.
In a different way, the same question is picked up by critic Karthik Shankar in his piece for this issue, as he zeroes in on folklore, thinking through how its supple continuity through extremely long passages of time might reflect on and contribute to the stories that are being told now, and which might be (re)told into the future.
We’re thrilled to have spoken to authors Liz Jensen and Gregory Norminton about their own climate fiction, the relationship between writing and activism, and the challenges for authors tackling climate change in their work. A global perspective is brought to such questions by lecturer in World Literature Sharae Deckard and novelist Prayaag Akbar in their conversation about how the phenomenon of climate change is resulting in very different lived experiences across the world and how, in turn, these differences affect the way we view and write about climate change.
It’s impossible to seriously consider literature’s relationship to climate change without considering its mode of production. Danielle Barrios-O’Neil, Head of the Information Experience Design Programme at the Royal College of Art, provides a fascinating tour through the possibilities open to publishing in an era in which long-established conceptions of business success must be rethought.
The scale of climate change also forces us to reconsider the boundaries between disciplines and find new ways of working together – something that poet, publisher and academic Sally Flint achieved when she ran a writing workshop for climate scientists at Dartington Hall. Here, Sally reflects on this experience and presents some of the poetry that was produced.
We were similarly keen to showcase some of the ways in which different disciplines and media cross-pollinate, through The Lit X Climate Visuals Competition. We are therefore delighted to publish the winning and shortlisted entries, which showcase the work of aspiring writers and their responses to work by photographers who are themselves seeking new perspectives on how people around the world are experiencing our changing climate.
The impacts and implications of climate change are myriad, complex and uncertain. We do not claim to provide any solutions in this issue, not only because the task is too difficult, but because the very idea of solutions might be more of a stumbling block than an aid in our current situation.
Instead, in the pieces that follow we have tried to set different perspectives, disciplines and ideas walking together towards the great crisis and challenge of our era. In reading the pieces in this issue of The Lit you will be retracing the paths they took; where those paths go after that is up to you.
Ben Smith is the author of Doggerland and is a lecturer in creative writing and programme lead for Creative and Professional Writing at Plymouth University.
David Sergeant is an author and poet and is associate professor in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Literature at Plymouth University.