Monday, February 8, 2016

America's First-Ever ''Cli-Fi Book Club'' Sets Up in Minnesota -- with more nationwide to follow

Cli-Fi Book Club:

America's First-Ever ''Cli-Fi Book Club'' Sets Up in Minnesota (with more nationwide to follow)



We have heard that truth is stranger than fiction. That may be the case, but until you have cracked open a Cli-Fi book or two, you may not have fully imagined the ways that life is altered by climate change.

As part of the 2016 Big Read in the St. Croix Valley, in Minnesota USA,  ''Cli-Fi book clubs'' are forming all over the lower St. Croix River Valley. Together, we will dive into Cli-Fi, a sub-genre of contemporary literary fiction. A few engaging and provocative novel selections have been made to help the informal book groups discuss the power of literature to wrestle with the vexing environmental questions of our time.

Please contact the director by email at to express your interest in book discussions which will take place in Prescott, Stillwater and St. Croix Falls.

Heather Rutledge also tells this blog: ''The programming is all stemming from ArtReach St. Croix's multi-disciplinary and valley-wide partnerships. One little point to note is that the valley is the boundary between MN and Wisconsin. It is important to give Wisconsinites credit, too. ''

She adds: "Here's a little background about our slice of the Earth. We live and work along one of America's Wild & Scenic Riverways and there is a National Park Service unit here. I believe this has cultivated a deep conservation ethic in many of the Valley's residents. "


Book selection:
I’m With the Bears: Short Stories from a Damaged Planet, a collection of short ''cli-fi'' stories by various authors

 I’m With the Bears: Short Stories from a Damaged Planet, a collection of short cli-fi stories by various authors The book’s title is taken from a quote attributed to environmentalist John Muir: “When it comes to a war between the races, I’m with the bears.” With contributions by Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, T.C. Boyle, Toby Litt, Lydia Millet, David Mitchell, Nathaniel Rich, Kim Stanley Robinson, Helen Simpson, and Wu Ming, I’m With the Bears is a great way to get a survey of some of the best climate ction writers of our time.


Book selection:
Flight Behavior: A Novel, by Barbara Kingsolver

Of Kingsolver, the New York Times writes, “She takes palpable pleasure in the craft of writing, creating images that stay with the reader long after her story is done.” Kingsolver’s riveting story concerns a woman on a failing farm in rural Tennessee who experiences something she cannot explain--the appearance of millions of monarchs. In Flight Behavior, Kingsolver traces the unforeseen impact of global climate change on the ordinary citizens of one rural community.


Book Selection:
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

The common title for this year’s Big Read in the St. Croix Valley, The Grapes of Wrath is not merely a great American novel. It is also a significant event in our national history. Steinbeck’s novel captures the plight of millions of Americans whose lives had been crushed by the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. “Written in a style of peculiarly democratic majesty, The Grapes of Wrath evokes quintessentially American themes of hard work, self-determination, and reasoned dissent,” states the NEA’s Big Read website. The Grapes of Wrath “speaks from assumptions common to most Americans whether their ancestors came over in a stateroom, in steerage, or were already here to greet the migrants.”


The book selection for MAY is to be selected by each individual Cli-Fi Book Club

Any questions? Contact (Heather Rutledge)

ArtReach St. Croix
224 N. 4th Street, Stillwater, MN 55082

TEL: (651).439.1465

This Cli-Fi Book Club organization has the distinction of being America's first-ever.

The director of the event, Heather Rutledge told this blog that she discovered the term ''Cli-fi'' from Professor Irene Faass, a friend who teaches eco-feminist and other literature at Minneapolis Community & Technical College. Irene introduced Heather to the cli-fi  genre and Heather was able to write the idea into a grant for The Big Read, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Here is a news article about the creation and purpose of the Cli-fi Book Clubs in this article in a local weekly.

[ News coverage might later appear in the Star Tribune and MN Public Radio, MPR. The environmental reporter from MinnPost might cover this as well. ]


Jackie Bussjaeger writes from STILLWATER's local news site:


STILLWATER — You’ve heard of sci-fi books, but in the St. Croix Valley, the subgenre of ''climate fiction,'' or ''cli-fi,'' is making an appearance for an environmentally focused monthly book club hosted by ArtReach St. Croix. 


“It’s really talking about the works of fiction that start with the assumption that the climate has changed,” said ArtReach Executive Director Heather Rutledge. “And sometimes that means it’s post-apocalyptic, but not always. The climate and the environment might not even be a central part of the story, but the characters and their relationships to each other and the choices that they make in the book are rooted in the fact that something has shifted.”



Ms. Rutledge is organizing the first few meetings of the club, which will host meetings in Stillwater, St. Croix Falls and Prescott. There are three books planned. After that, Rutledge said, continued meetings depend on the interests of the attendees. Club members will be able to select their own book for a fourth meeting, and clubs may continue to meet and select cli-fi titles to read for as long as they like. 
Rutledge said that she has heard a few misconceptions about what readers can expect to find in the cli-fi genre.
“[People] think it’s post-apocalyptic, they think it’s speculative, they think that it’s gonna be first and foremost a book about science, but that’s not always the case,” Rutledge said. “And in fact, that’s why we picked the first book for the series — ‘I’m With The Bears’ is a collection of stories by many well-known authors who are already dipping their toes in cli-fi.” 
The series of books has been carefully tailored to appeal to inhabitants of the St. Croix Valley.
“The second book that we chose, ‘Flight Behavior,’ we chose very specifically because people around here are talking a lot about pollinators and about migration corridors for birds and butterflies and pollinators that are threatened. So ‘Flight Behavior’ is kind of a cool tie-in to that pollinator partnership.”
With the Big Read coming up in April, it seemed the perfect way for ArtReach to work classic literature into the book list. Hosted throughout the valley by the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the Big Read lasts throughout the month, promoting a different work of literature throughout the St. Croix Valley each year. Programming can include visual arts, theater performances and book discussions, as well as other unique events. This year’s theme is “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck.
“Obviously the third book we chose because it’s the Big Read,” Rutledge said. “People understand that part of our history and the Dust Bowl as prompting a big wave of human migration. It’s a great work of classical American literature, and the themes are so relevant. Even back in the later ’30s, people in Wisconsin and Minnesota were experiencing drought, pressures on their family farms and soil and water erosion. The Washington County Conservation District and the other conservation districts popped up right at the time. It was a matter of preserving the soil and maintaining clean water, and in a way it was a matter of national security. Our ability to have food security was critical, so it’s very relevant.”
Environmental themes have permeated thousands of books. Rutledge said that the name “cli-fi” only gives another dimension to the existence of these themes throughout works of historical and contemporary literature. 
“Obviously people have been writing books that count as cli-fi for decades, but this is really a newly recognized subgenre, and there are very few people I’ve ever talked to who have heard the word before. It’s a fun new way to distinguish books.”
ArtReach will have small lending library on site for club members to borrow books, but the titles are also available at Valley Bookseller, local libraries and online. 
“I think fiction is a great way to imagine and experience the future, even if it’s a story about the present or the past,” Rutledge said. “So I hope that people are interested in dipping into this cli-fi book club and seeing what this all about.”
To learn more about the Cli-Fi Book Club and the Big Read, visit


How writers can read ''The Grapes of Wrath' as climate fiction, [aka 'cli-fi']

a blog post October 2014 by Joe Follansbee in Seattle

John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath serves as a model for speculative fiction writers interested in portraying the effects of climate change.
Great fiction dramatizes times, places and attitudes it was never meant to illuminate. Shakespeare’s plays are loved today, despite the sometimes impenetrable language and unacceptable sexism and racism, because they reveal the universal. For several years, I’ve been interested in how fiction authors deal with climate change, and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is one of the better attempts, if you choose to interpret it this way.
In case you skipped your American Literature class, or forgot to watch John Ford’s film adaptation, the 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel follows the Joad family from the loss of their Oklahoma farm during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s through their migration to California’s Central Valley. They descend from a life of gentile poverty to one of desperate survival.
Climate change had nothing to do with the Dust Bowl, though both were at least partly caused by humans. A long, severe drought and poor tillage practices combined to inflict dust storms on the Great Plains that blotted out the sun for days. The ecological and agricultural disaster, magnified by the economic apocalypse of the Great Depression, forced many Midwestern farmers to sell out or banks to foreclose, pushing 2.5 million people off the land. About 200,000 of these evicted men, women, and children, like Steinbeck’s fictional Joads, packed up for jobs (mostly imaginary) picking peaches and cotton in the Golden State.
Steinbeck relies on heat, dryness, and dust as symbols of a once-verdant landscape ravaged by nature’s variability and humanity’s ignorance. Most speculative and science fiction with strong climate themes translate the phrase “global warming” into a hot, dry landscape as devoid of life and succor as the (nearly) waterless dunes of Mars. Scientifically, global warming doesn’t always mean dry and hot, though deserts will likely expand over time. Counter-intuitively, wet parts of the planet will become wetter, though the watery part of global warming will express itself in rising sea levels, as portrayed in George Turner’s The Sea and Summer. If you read The Grapes of Wrath while substituting climate change for the natural causes of the Dust Bowl, the novel fits in to the same category as Karl Taro Greenfeld’s The Subprimes or Claire Vaye Watkins’ Gold Fame Citrus, both published in 2015. Each rely on deserts and dust as emblematic of a damaged earth.
The less obvious device that a modern reading of Steinbeck’s masterpiece offers climate fiction writers is eye-opening and frightening. Steinbeck shows how the ecological disaster of the Dirty Thirties destroys the Joad family. They start as dispossessed, journey as refugees, find work as laborers paid starvation wages, and end up, in many cases, insane, on-the-run, or dead. Steinbeck offers authors interested in the impacts of global warming one way to portray its downstream effects on individuals and families en masse. The uprooted, forced by nature and broken institutions into an unfamiliar world, do not always endure.
These effects are not fantasy. While no one has identified a current mass migration as caused primarily by climate change (except maybe this one), the 2010 non-fiction book Climate Refugees brings together stories of families and communities facing life-wrenching decisions forced by desertification, rising sea levels, intensifying storms, and other impacts of a warming world. In the writer’s imagination, it’s easy to scale up the known, real impacts on a few human beings to tens of millions or hundreds of millions of people, not to mention the secondary effects of economic dislocation and the political or military consequences of mass movements of people from one place to another.
Steinbeck’s novel presents all these consequences in a wrenching, almost obscene narrative that makes the preventable ecological and economic disaster of the Dust Bowl as maddening as sand in your eyes. Speculative writers can use Steinbeck as a case study in how to imagine the future consequences of climate change, showing in a personal way how life might play out in world turned inhospitable and heartless.

***a top of the hat to JOE in Seattle for his prescient book review of an old classic!

note: ===============

Heather Rutledge also tells this blog: ''The programming is all stemming from ArtReach St. Croix's multi-disciplinary and valley-wide partnerships. One little point to note is that the valley is the boundary between MN and Wisconsin. It is important to give Wisconsinites credit, too.

She adds: "Here's a little background about our slice of the Earth. We live and work along one of America's Wild and Scenic Riverways and there is a National Park Service unit here. I believe this has cultivated a deep conservation ethic in many of the Valley's residents. "


Cli-fi novelists may soon appear at book club events for guest appearances in UK, USA, Australia #CliFi