Back in March, the Associated Press reported in a wire that ''colleges and universities worldwide are incorporating into their curriculums the evolving genre of literature that focuses on the changes coming to Earth as the result of climate change — “cli-fi.” ''
Some of the books and movies being considered as part of the rising new genre were older classics, while others were written more recently in direct response to today’s mad-made global warming and changing climate.
This fall semester, more cli-fi classes are popping up all over, including one taught by Malcolm Sen at UMASS, and another by Isiah Lavender at LSU. In both cases, the professors have academic backgrounds in post-colonial literature and multi-generational issues with exponential environmental, social, gendered and corporeal effects. Class discussions will elaborate on the multi-scalar and interconnected complexities that define environmental realities, ecological imperialism, the financialization and nuclearization of the planet, and the gendered aspects of climate change effects. ''Cli-fi'' is coming to be seen more and more as more than just a genre written by white Caucasians in English, but also as a rising new genre written in over a dozen non-English languages well and published by authors of a wide variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, according to Dan Bloom, curator of the Cli-Fi Report, which keeps track of the genre.
Professor Malcom Sen
Professor Isiah Lavender
“It’s a very, very energized time for this where people in literature have just as much to say as people who are in hard science fields, or technology and design fields, or various social-science approaches to these things,” said Jennifer Wicke, an English professor at the University of Virginia who taught a course in June on climate fiction at the Bread Loaf campus of Middlebury College in Ripton, Vermont.
The Bread Loaf School of English is mainly for elementary- and high school-level English teachers who can, in turn, take what they learn back to their classrooms to get their students to understand how literature can reflect current events.
“This course gave them a model for creating and imagining English courses that will help the young people whom they teach understand that reading literature, looking at the arts, looking at film isn’t something you do as an aside,” said Bread Loaf school Director Emily Bartels, also a professor of English at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “It’s something you do as you learn how to navigate your own moment in the 21st century.”
Cli-fi, a term that emerged less than 10 yearrs ago, is now being discussed and taught by academics across the nation and world. In April, about three dozen academics attended a workshop in Germany called “Between Fact and Fiction: Climate Change Fiction,” hosted by the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study in the northwestern city of Delmenhorst.
The website for the workshop lists some contemporary examples of books that fit the definition: Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior,” about an Appalachian town to which confused monarch butterflies have migrated; Nathaniel Rich’s “Odds Against Tomorrow,” the story of a mathematician coping with catastrophe in New York; and Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Water Knife,” about water wars in the southwestern United States.