Sci-fi isn't going away from the literary scene by any means, but there's a new kid on the block, and more and more colleges are offering classes on the rising new genre of "cli-fi."
Academia is waking up to the trials and tribulations of 'cli-fi,' and it's a trend worth watching.
This spring semester five colleges nationwide have cli-fi lit classes on tap, with both undergrad and graduate level courses involved. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. This year, 2015, is shaping up to be the Year of Cli-Fi in academia, and not just in North America, but in Britain and Australia as well.
With such publications as the New York Times (''College Classes Use Art to Brace for Climate Change'')
and Time magazine (''Cli-fi Goes to Hollywood'') reporting on the new genre in 2014, and with an Associated Press wire story going nationwide to 1,500 newspapers in December as well, several universities and colleges in the United States have taken up the call and are part of a telling new trend in higher education.
The Chronicle of Higher Education newspaper in Washington, D.C., which covers American academic issues in a variety of subject areas, has assigned a staff reporter to look into the rise of cli fi in the academy as well, according to sources.
Joining professors at Temple University in Philadelphia in the east and the University of Oregon out west, three other colleges are offering cli-fi courses this semester: Holyoke Community College in western Masschusetts, the University of Delaware and the State University of New York in Geneseo (SUNY Geneseo).
There is, of course, a long and storied history of teaching sci-fi at colleges across the country, with several universities even setting up literature departments that specialize in sci-fi research, writing and novels. Now cli-fi is joining the academic world and finding a room of its own there as well.
Elizabeth Trobaugh and Steve Winters at Holyoke Community College are team-teaching a climate-themed literature class this semester titled “Cli Fi: Stories and Science from the Coming Climate Apocalypse.”
The class combines an "Introduction to Literature" segment and a lab science segment, Trobaugh told this blogger in a recent email. "The final project of the class will have students write their own cli-fi short stories."
I asked Trobaugh what books her students were reading for the class.
“We are using a short story collection titled 'I’m with the Bears', and students will also be reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s 'The Windup Girl' and science writer Elizabeth Kolbert’s nonfiction book 'The Sixth Extinction'. We plan to show the movies 'Avatar' and 'Snowpiercer'."
When I told Trobaugh that I planned to write a news story about her course, she replied: "Thank you for your interest in what we are doing this semeseter.
Professor Winters and I thought we were onto
something, and your email confirms our
conviction that cli-fi is indeed on the rise, and this is the moment (as
Macklemore says in the song) to catch the wave."
Stephen Siperstein, a doctoral student at the University of Oregon in Eugene who was profiled in the New York Times article last April, is also teaching a cli-fi literature class this semester, with his undergrad students posting weekly class blogs about what they are reading and how they are reacting to the new genre of fiction.
At Temple Universtiy, Ted Howell, also a doctoral student, is teaching an undergraduate class titled "Cli-fi: Science Fiction, Climate Change, and Apocalypse'' witgh about 30 students enrolled. They are also keeping weekly blogs about the course, using them to interact online outside of class with their professor and fellow students.
"The first two texts we read this semester, 'The Machine Stops' by E.M. Forster and 'The Time Machine' by H.G. Wells, were written way before 'climate change' as we understand it was a real concern, but part of what I’m doing by assigning them is investigating what it means to talk about 'climate change' in books written in an earlier era," Howell said in an email.
At SUNY Geneseo in upstate new York, Professor Ken Cooper is teaching a class this semester titled "Reader and Text: Cli-Fi".
"We will begin by analyzing some print and electronic texts from the emergent genre of ''cli-fi'': renditions of the present and future inflected by anthropogenic climate change," Cooper told his students by way of introduction. ''Representative works may include Paolo Bacigalupi’s 'The Windup Girl,' Barbara Kingsolver’s 'Flight Behavior,' Cuaron’s 'Children of Men,' and the Cape Farewell/ADRIFT project.
There will be at least one zombie apocalypse."
Professor Siohban Carroll at the University of Delaware is a specialst in 19th century British literature and, having recently heard of the cli-fi term, told this blogger in a recent tweet: "I'm sort of teaching a 19th Century 'cli-fi' class right now at the graduate level. This week: Mary Shelley & the Anthropocene."
At Columbia University in New York, Irish expat Darragh G Martin will be teaching a summer session class on cli-fi novels and movies, with the course set to begin on May 27 and enrollment still open, according to sources. The class has a student limit of 30 people, but being in New York, the media capital of the world, there is a good chance that media outlets in Manhattan will be interviewing Dr Martin and his students for a major summer of 2015 "cli fi in the classroom" story -- from the BBC to CNN, from ABC to NBC, from the New York Times to the Guardian.
So there's a new kid on the academic block: 'Cli-fi' coures are becoming a much-talked-about item on many college class syllabus websites now and there's a big future in all this for students, professors, researchers and novelists. Hollywood screenwriters, too.
College classrooms go 'cli-fi' as academia wakes up to rising new literary genre