Wednesday, 7:30 pm EDT February 24, 2021
Online via Zoom
“The challenge of writing about climate change is how to take this thing that is essentially on a larger scale than our minds can hold and how to make it a narrative that our minds can hold.” —Leslie Jamison, New York Times
Can great writing help us confront the global climate crisis before it’s too late? Pulitzer Prize winner and New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert (The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History) reports on what is at stake as well as efforts to turn the tide in her new book, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future. In her recently published debut, The Inland Sea, author Madeleine Watts parses the anxieties of living in a constant state of emergency and provides a glimpse of what comfort and refuge might look like in a land besieged by the climate crisis. Leslie Jamison (Make It Scream, Make It Burn: Essays) will moderate the discussion to examine the ways that climate fiction and journalism might help connect science and the lived experience to the will for change.
On America brings writers, journalists, activists, and change-makers together to reflect on the critical issues of our times. See past and upcoming events in series.
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Elizabeth Kolbert is the author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change and The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. For her work at the New Yorker, where she’s a staff writer, she has received two National Magazine Awards and the Blake-Dodd Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.
Madeleine Watts grew up in Sydney, Australia and currently lives in New York. She has an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, and her fiction has been published in the White Review and the Lifted Brow. Her novella, Afraid of Waking It was awarded the Griffith Review Novella Prize. Her non-fiction has appeared in the Believer, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Literary Hub. The Inland Sea is her first novel.
Leslie Jamison is the author of three nonfiction books—The Recovering, The Empathy Exams, and most recently, the essay collection Make it Scream, Make it Burn—as well as a novel, The Gin Closet. She is a contributing writer for the New York Times magazine and directs the graduate nonfiction program at Columbia University.
Under a White Sky
By Elizabeth Kolbert
Published by Crown Publishing
That man should have dominion “over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” is a prophecy that has hardened into fact. So pervasive are human impacts on the planet that it’s said we live in a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.
In Under a White Sky, Elizabeth Kolbert takes a hard look at the new world we are creating. She meets scientists who are trying to preserve the world’s rarest fish, which lives in a single, tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave. She visits a lava field in Iceland, where engineers are turning carbon emissions to stone; an aquarium in Australia, where researchers are trying to develop “super coral” that can survive on a hotter globe; and a lab at Harvard, where physicists are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere in order to reflect sunlight back to space and cool the earth.
One way to look at human civilization, says Kolbert, is as a ten-thousand-year exercise in defying nature. In The Sixth Extinction, she explored the ways in which our capacity for destruction has reshaped the natural world. Now she examines how the very sorts of interventions that have imperiled our planet are increasingly seen as the only hope for its salvation. By turns inspiring, terrifying, and darkly comic, Under a White Sky is an utterly original examination of the challenges we face.
The Inland Sea
By Madeleine Watts
Published by Catapult
Drifting after her final year in college, a young writer begins working part-time as an emergency dispatch operator in Sydney. Over the course of an eight-hour shift, she is dropped into hundreds of crises, hearing only pieces of each. Callers report car accidents and violent spouses and homes caught up in flame.
The work becomes monotonous: answer, transfer, repeat. And yet the stress of listening to far-off disasters seeps into her personal life, and she begins walking home with keys in hand, ready to fight off men disappointed by what they find in neighboring bars. During her free time, she gets black-out drunk, hooks up with strangers, and navigates an affair with an ex-lover whose girlfriend is in their circle of friends.
Two centuries earlier, her great-great-great-great-grandfather—the British explorer John Oxley—traversed the wilderness of Australia in search of water. Oxley never found the inland sea, but the myth was taken up by other men, and over the years, search parties walked out into the desert, dying as they tried to find it.
Interweaving a woman’s self-destructive unraveling with the gradual worsening of the climate crisis, The Inland Sea is charged with unflinching insight into our age of anxiety. At a time when wildfires have swept an entire continent, this novel asks what refuge and comfort looks like in a constant state of emergency..
About this series
Our On America series brings writers, journalists, activists, and change-makers together to reflect on the critical issues of our times. Who are we and who are we becoming? How do the stories we tell shape who we are as a nation? Will we rise to the challenges we face?
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