LIVE from NYPL: Confronting Climate Grief in Fiction with Akil Kumarasamy, Sam J. Miller, Nathaniel Rich, and Mary Annaïse Heglar
Writers whose novels and stories have crossed the intersection of climate change and mental health ask whether fiction can have a meaningful impact on how we handle the climate crisis.
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Debates over what obligations fiction writers have to engage with contemporary issues in their work probably go back to the invention of fiction. In recent years that argument has taken on more eschatological tones when it comes to climate change, which has been called the “largest, most pervasive threat to the natural environment and societies the world has ever experienced.” The climate crisis and mental health have figured into the novels or stories of Akil Kumarasamy, Sam J. Miller, and Nathaniel Rich.
Speaking with Mary Annaïse Heglar, they will discuss the responsibilities that storytellers do or don’t have to center our most dire global challenge, and how they respect both the big picture narratives of climate change and the individual stories of mental and physical health within them—and what kind of change can we reasonably expect their work to help induce.
Presented as part of Mindscapes, Wellcome's international cultural program about mental health, in partnership with the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center.
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ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
Mary Annaïse Heglar is known for her essays that dissect and interrogate the climate crisis, drawing heavily on her personal experience as a Black woman with deep roots in the South. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, The Nation, The Boston Globe, Vox, Rolling Stone, and other outlets. Her work has also been featured in collections like All We Can Save, The World As We Knew It, The Black Agenda, Letters to the Earth, and Not Too Late. With investigative journalist Amy Westervelt, she is also the co-creator of the now-retired Hot Take podcast and newsletter. In 2020, she was selected as the inaugural writer in residence at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and has gone on to teach at Columbia University in New York and Tulane University in New Orleans. In 2020, she received a SEAL Environmental Journalism award. She is based in New Orleans, but her heart is in Mississippi and her soul is in Birmingham.
Akil Kumarasamy is the author of the novel, Meet Us by the Roaring Sea (FSG, 2022), and the linked story collection, Half Gods (FSG, 2018), which was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, was awarded the Bard Fiction Prize and the Story Prize Spotlight Award, and was a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize. Her work has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The Atlantic, American Short Fiction, BOMB, among others. She has received fellowships from the University of East Anglia, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Yaddo, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. She is an assistant professor in the Rutgers University-Newark MFA program.
Sam J. Miller's books have been called "must reads" and "bests of the year" by USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, and O: The Oprah Magazine, among others. His short fiction has been published in places like The Kenyon Review, Vogue Italia, Tor.com, and Asimov's, among many others. He's received the Nebula, Locus, and Shirley Jackson Awards, as well as the hopefully-soon-to-be-renamed John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He's also the last in a long line of butchers. Sam lives in New York City, and at samjmiller.com
Nathaniel Rich is the author of Losing Earth, a finalist for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Award and the winner of awards from the Society of Environmental Journalists and the American Institute of Physics. His most recent book, Second Nature, longlisted for the PEN/E.O Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, features the story “Dark Waters,” which was adapted into a film starring Mark Ruffalo. Rich is also the author of three novels, including Odds Against Tomorrow (2013), hailed by Rolling Stone as "the first great climate-change novel."
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