Saturday, December 19, 2015

‘Cli-Fi’ Reaches into Literature Classrooms at Tufts, Middllebury, Vanderbilt, Ohio State, Brooklyn College in Spring 2016 Semester Offerings

From Middlebury College to Tufts University, and with over 100 college classrooms across the nation, more and more professors are teaching classes on the “cli-fi” genre of fiction and cinema. Academia has taken up the challenge and students are responding in droves.

*** see also a graduate seminar being taught at Tufts Univeristy by Prof. Liz Ammons

While authors are penning cli-fi novels — with movie scriptwriters creating cli-fi screenplays to try to sell to Hollywood — classrooms worldwide are now focusing attention of the rising genre of literature and cinema.

Jenny Bavidge at the University of Cambridge taught a class on cli-fi last summer at the Institute of Continuing Education there, and Darragh Martin taught a cli-fi class at Columbia University in Manhattan last summer, too.

Cli-fi is a catchy abbreviation for the genre of “climate fiction,” much in the same way that “sci-fi” is a nickname for “science fiction.” With news articles about the rise of cli-fi appearing in the New York Times and Time magazine, literature professors saw an opportune time to introduce cli-fi classes into the curriculum. It's catching on, from The Breadloaf Writers English School at Middlebury, where activist Bill McKibben also teaches, to Vanderbilt and beyond.

“Literary fiction has dreamed up many versions of the end of the world, but how is contemporary fiction dealing with the threat of climate change?” Bavidge asked students in her introduction to the class last summer. “This course will focus on works by contemporary authors, including Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan, and ask whether ‘cli-fi’ imagines solutions as well as ends.

“As people living through this particular historical moment, we may want to ask how far [cli-fi] novels contribute to efforts to better understand our relationship with the planet and its ecosystems,” she wrote.

One of my mentors in the world of sci-fi literature is the novelist David Brin.

I once asked him about how climate change themes have been influencing sci-fi novels and movies, and he told me by email: “Global warming and flooding were important in my 1989 novel ‘Earth,’ but they were earlier featured in the film ‘Soylent Green’ based on Harry Harrison’s novel ‘Make Room, Make Room!’”

Over 100  U.S. colleges have set up cli-fi classes this Spring 2016 semester, with both undergrad and graduate level courses involved. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This decade, 2010s, is shaping up to be ”The Decade of Cli-Fi” in academia, and not just in North America, but in Britain and Australia as well.

Several non-English speaking countries are also looking at cli-fi and how it impacts their own literary circles, including Brazil, Spain, Germany and France.

While universities and colleges in the United States have taken up the call and are part of the new trend in higher education now, the genre is reaching out worldwide to writers (and readers) across the globe. Cli-fi is not an American or British genre; it has become a global genre.

The Chronicle of Higher Education newspaper in Washington, D.C., which covers 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.

In addition to Martin’s summer class at Columbia, professors at Temple University in Philadelphia, the University of Oregon, Holyoke Community College, the State University of New York in Geneseo (SUNY Geneseo) and The University of Delaware have offered cli-fi classes over the past few years, with a total of about 10,000 students nationwide enrolled.

It’s a beginning. And there’s more to come.

Academics writing in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, among other world languages are putting out papers about cli-fi and planning classes in the genre at the universities where they teach.

There is, of course, a long and storied history of teaching sci-fi at colleges in North America and Britain, with several universities even setting up literature departments that specialise in sci-fi research. Now cli-fi is joining the global academic world and finding a room of its own there as well.

Stephen Siperstein, a doctoral student at the University of Oregon, taught a cli-fi literature class, with his undergrad students posting weekly class blogs about what they are reading and how they were reacting to the new genre of fiction.

At Temple University, Ted Howell taught an undergraduate class titled “Cli-fi: Science Fiction, Climate Change, and Apocalypse” with about 30 students enrolled. They were also asked to keep weekly blogs about the course, using them to interact online outside of class with their professor and fellow students.

At SUNY Geneseo in upstate New York, Professor Ken Cooper is teaching a class this semester titled “Reader and Text: Cli-Fi.”

”Representative works will include Paolo Bacigalupi’s ‘The Windup Girl,’ Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Flight Behavior,’ and other novels,” Cooper told his students by way of introduction, adding mischievously: “There will be at least one zombie apocalypse, too.”

So there you have it. Cli-fi has reached deep into academia and found partners on college campuses.

It’s a worldwide trend because global warming impacts us all, and literature and cinema always respond to the things that matter.

*** see also a graduate seminar being taught at Tufts Univeristy by Prof. Liz Ammons

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