Writing for Sustainability

How do writers, poets and artists tackle climate change in their work? What role do they have in communicating the enormity of the climate crisis facing the planet?  Climate change often appears in works with dystopian themes, while other pieces feature themes of environmentalism and sustainability offering us a hope that survival is possible.

“Maybe we need partners in this kind of writing, partners to imagine what a utopia or what a version of the end of this novel that we’re living can be, that is not one of devastation but of security and brightness.” — Nicole Walker.

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    Writing for Sustainability KGNU News


Nicole Walker, a Professor of English at Northern Arizona University, is one such writer who is exploring what’s happening with the climate through her work. She is the author of many creative nonfiction collections, including Sustainability: A Love Story (2018) and, with David Carlin, the recently-released The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet (2019).

Walker began as a poet and it’s that background that she credits with getting a sense of how to write about the changing climate.

“One of the things I think that poetry really taught me is to pay attention to the small details, but the moments in our lives, the grains of sand, the sound of a branch cracking, those kind of things, images are, that’s the stuff of our actual existence and the stuff we can really hang on to.”

She’ll be leading several workshops on sustainability writing at CU Boulder on February 6 and 7. While some of the events are aimed at students, all are open to the general public and Walker says she hopes to inspire people to take at least some form of action around the climate.

“It’s not only that I might be able to persuade you a little bit, not even to be a full-time activist or to move from climate denial to climate acceptance, but to believe that there is something you can do and what that the thing to do is a personal, I think of it as a personal cap and trade program where you can imagine, okay, I’m still gonna eat meat once a week, but I’m only going to buy clothes at the thrift store or I’m never going to take my clothes to the dry cleaners, so I can in fact instead, you know, drive my car to work. There’s balance to be had in the universe, and I think going forward with whatever we try to do to change the infrastructure and climate, that we need to keep that sort of balance in mind. And so when people come to see me read, you know, I like to perform that balance.”

Walker says that there is room across all forms of literature to explore what’s happening with the enviornment, both with through a pesimistic and optimistic lens.

“Maybe we need partners in this kind of writing, partners to imagine what a utopia or what a version of the end of this novel that we’re living can be, that is not one of devastation but of security and brightness.”

Nicole Walker CU Boulder Workshops:
Thursday, February 6 from 7pm: Reading from Her Works. KCEN (Kittredge Central) N114 Multi-Purpose Room.

Friday, February 7 from 10-11.30am: A Teaching Workshop & Dialogue titled “Teaching Writing Students How to Connect What’s in Their Hands to the Big Eco-Ideas in Their Heads.” UMC 425.

Friday, February 7 from 1-2pm: A Presentation titled “Of Hyperobjects, Tiny Objects, and How Writing It All Down Will Save the World.” REC C250 (Large Ice Rink Overlook.)

Walker’s teaching workshop is limited to 25 participants, and sign up here. CU-Boulder affiliation is not necessary to sign up.

Nicole Walker recommends several writers who tackle climate change:

  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers.
  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.
  • The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi.



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