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Alternate Histories in Fiction with Elliot Ackerman and Christine Grillo

May 31, 2023

American history as we know it is the result of countless overlapping butterfly effects, coincidences, and collective choices. But what if the many drops in the bucket amounted to something just a little different? Former Marine Corps Special Operations Team Leader and writer Elliot Ackerman (2034: A Novel of the Next World War, Red Dress in Black and White) and science journalist Christine Grillo discussed their takes on an alternate United States of America—one where the reflections of the past echo differently in the present. Ackerman’s Halcyon is set during Al Gore’s second term as president after he has successfully funded a cure for death, and Grillo’s debut novel, Hestia Strikes a Match, imagines daily life against the backdrop of a new, present-day civil war. Co-presented by Harper’s Magazine and moderated by Chris Beha (The Index of Self-Destructive Acts), they entered into a discussion about alternate U.S.A.s as a storytelling device, the craft of writing, and the ways in which exploring false histories can reveal profound truths.

In Conversation

  • Elliot Ackerman Author Photo © Alyssa Schukar 2022[1] - Vrinda Madan

    Elliot Ackerman

    Elliot Ackerman

    Elliot Ackerman is the author of the novels Red Dress in Black and White, Waiting for Eden, Dark at the Crossing (a finalist for the National Book Award), and Green on Blue (a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize), as well as the memoir Places and Names, and is the coauthor with Admiral James Stavridis of the bestseller 2034: A Novel of the Next World War. Ackerman is both a former White House Fellow and Marine, and served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart.

    Photo Credit: Alyssa Schukar

  • Christine Grillo (credit Howard Korn)

    Christine Grillo

    Christine Grillo

    Christine Grillo is a writer and editor covering food systems, agriculture, and climate change, whose nonfiction has been published in outlets such as the New York Times, the Atlantic: CityLab, Audubon, NextTribe, and Real Simple. Her short fiction has appeared in Story Quarterly, the Southern Review, and LIT. Hestia Strikes a Match is her first novel.

    Photo Credit: Howard Korn

  • CHristopher Beha Photo - Vrinda Madan

    Christopher Beha

    Christopher Beha

    Christopher Beha is the editor of Harper’s Magazine. He is the author of a memoir, The Whole Five Feet, and the novels Arts & Entertainments and What Happened to Sophie Wilder. His latest novel, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts, was nominated for the 2020 National Book Award. He is currently writing an intellectual history of atheism for Penguin Press.

    Photo Credit: Ira Lippke