Climate Action & Creative Writing: an Interview with Evan Fleischer
by Writing Workshops Staff
A month ago
WW: Your workshop uniquely combines climate action with creative writing. What was the moment or experience that inspired you to integrate these two seemingly distinct domains into one course?
EF: There was no particular moment or experience that inspired this course (other than the accumulating dread accompanying watching one climate-fueled disaster after another.) Rather, my inspiration for this course emerged from what I wasn't seeing. Education sets the tempo. It sets the tone. Everything else follows on from that.
Climate change is something that stands a good chance of requiring a whole-of-society response. Though we can no longer recycle our way to a climate safe future, we can organize ourselves in a way to either boost climate work already underway or begin to fill gaps that have yet to be filled. And if anything can fuel a good story, why can't that thing be good, real life work as well?
WW: Ecofiction often requires a delicate balance between factual environmental information and narrative storytelling. How do you guide your students in integrating their research on climate issues into compelling, character-driven narratives?
EF: Almost all creative work is about synthesis and balance regardless of the overall topic at hand. Ecofiction is no different.
WW: For students enrolling in your workshop, what kind of journey can they expect over these six weeks, both in terms of their activism and their writing?
EF: The goal of the course is to get students engaging with the world. By the end of those six weeks, ideally, we'll all be stuck in long-term projects designed to make the area we live in just a little bit better. (I should note: we will absolutely be having conversations in class about how to measure something like that, what constitutes a fair-but-ambitious goal, and more.)
WW: One challenge in writing fiction with a message like climate action is ensuring the story doesn't become too didactic. How do you advise students on striking the right balance between educating readers about environmental issues and keeping them engaged in the story?
EF: Synthesis and balance! Be aware of synthesis and balance. It also depends on the nature of the piece in question. Radiohead's "The Daily Mail" flirts with being an outright didactic song, but it manages to stand as a piece of work in and of itself.
WW: In your experience, how does the theme of climate action shape the development of characters in ecofiction? What advice do you give your students about creating characters who are deeply intertwined with environmental themes?
EF: Climate action means power analysis. Power analysis means tracing lines from someone's day-to-day personal experience towards larger, structural forces and seeing what these connections subsequently tell us about our day-to-day lives, these larger forces, and how the actions of each impact the other.
In other words: there are sometimes subjects so big, so encompassing that we skip past thinking about what the impact might be on our characters and their lives. (See: place, for instance.) Climate action and environmental themes fall into a similar category.
WW: The course outline mentions an eclectic mix of texts, from 'Silent Spring' to reports on the Australian bushfires. How do these diverse materials contribute to the student's understanding and writing of ecofiction?
EF: Climate change is of a size, scale, and scope that requires far more than just an arrangement of linearly established knowledge. The syllabus is an attempt to work towards reality.
WW: Ecofiction often involves creating realistic yet possibly futuristic or altered worlds impacted by environmental issues. What are some key world-building techniques you teach in your workshop to help students effectively portray these unique settings?
EF: Everyone can get a much fuller sense of how I think about worldbuilding by taking my asynchronous course, How To Worldbuild, but, for now, I'll say this: one great way to worldbuild is to simply ask yourself, again and again, "If this is true, then what else is true?" i.e., 'If everyone is quiet in this bar, then what else is true?' Answer: 'Someone must have said something. Or no one has anything to say. If no one has anything to say, then they must have said everything already. If they have truly said everything already, then everyone must be taking a moment to process everything that was just said.'
WW: How have your own climate-related actions influenced your writing and teaching style? Can you share an example of how a personal environmental action transformed into a narrative in your work?
EF: I'm actually coming to this class from a perspective that I haven't been doing enough. Yes, I have been giving money to certain organizations, but it is absurd (and impractical, and not responsible) that I'm not doing more. This is a class where I hope others will join me along the way.
You can learn more about Evan's upcoming Crafting Ecofiction from Climate Action 6-Week Zoom Workshop and enroll if you're interested. We would be honored to write with you this year! So, what are you waiting for?
Instructor Evan Fleischer is a writer, editor, and recent MFA graduate. He has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Republic, Slate, The Washington Post, Vice, and numerous other publications.