‘Cli Fi’ book club comes to ArtReach St. Croix

A unique brand of a Cli-Fi ''book club'' is starting locally in Minnesota with an emphasis on authors who tackle the issue of humans interacting with a changing environment.
As climate change comes to the forefront of scientific discussion, literary artists are responding through the emergence of a new sub-genre of contemporary literature dubbed “Cli Fi.”
“Climate Fiction, or Cli Fi, is a way for authors to imagine what life would be like if the future according to scientists comes true,” said  Heather Rutledge, executive director of ArtReach St. Croix.
Following the success of last year’s National Endowment for the Arts funded “Big Read,” Rutledge began planning the 2016 effort.
“So much of grant writing starts with first developing programing, and something we are currently talking about is the environment,” Rutledge said. “A friend introduced me to the idea of Cli Fi, and that was where I started.”
The “Big Read” is a campaign that joins libraries, theaters and other community groups together to explore the themes found in a single book using performance and visual arts, as well organized book clubs and discussions. For the 2016 program, John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” was selected, and events in April include a April 1 Charlie Maguire concert and a production of the stage version of “The Grapes of Wrath” by the St. Croix Festival Theatre.
“It’s a very special thing to be able to have a stage production of ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ due to the size of the 60-person cast,” Rutledge said.
In Steinbeck’s book, the Joad family faces the hardships of the Great Depression and the economic effects of the Dust Bowl. Although the book was published almost 80 years ago, Rutledge said the situations that faced the characters in “The Grapes of Wrath” are similar to many in other Cli Fi books.
“Scientists are sounding every alarm bell and now it is time for the rest of us to imagine what climate change will feel like,” Rutledge said.
In preparation to the events in April for the Big Read, ArtReach is starting the conversation about Cli Fi through its new book club. In February, ArtReach hosted a discussion of “I’m With the Bears: Short Stories from a Damaged Planet.”
“We received a small turnout but had a lively discussion,” Rutledge said. “There were people that are experts about climate change, some like me that are familiar and — like at every book club — some people that didn’t read the book. Everyone had something to add.”
***** At 7 p.m. on March 15 ArtReach is hosting a discussion on the Barbara Kingsolver novel “Flight Behaviour.”
“There is a large amount of discussion in the St. Croix Valley about pollinators, and the book features monarch butterflies in rural Tennessee,” Rutledge said.
For those interested in the Cli Fi book club, or being a part of a future location for a book club, contact lit@artreachstcroix.org.
“If you can’t make it to a discussion in Stillwater but are interested in a different time or location, get in touch with us,” Rutledge said.
Contact reporter Alicia Lebens at alicia.lebens@ecm-inc.com