By Amanda Hawkins
The climate crisis is not easily a hopeful topic. Indeed, the tone at the beginning of Saturday afternoon’s discussion, “A Mighty Storm: Reading and Writing our Climate Future,” began as it should: serious, pointed, and clear.
Nadege Green moderated the conversation, asking how authors Megan Giddings and Emily Raboteau approach the climate crisis in their work.
Raboteau noticed for the audience that she had been writing about the concerns of climate change since before she knew what she was writing—especially the complicated meaning of “home” and resilience in communities of color. Now, she said, she writes about climate change through a lens of motherhood.
Giddings focused in on exploring society’s perception of the “right kind” of climate victim. She explores the ways place shapes a person and how, as a writer, she cannot do that exploration without talking about climate justice.
Green deftly led the remainder of the discussion through questions of climate-exacerbated structural racism and historical research and integration, and she invited Giddings and Raboteau to speak on the issues they wanted to explore and uplift in environmental justice work in the future.
In the middle of the discussion, Raboteau gave a quick overview of what the stakes are, and rattled off a list of climate crisis facts. The takeaway? Call it what it is: environmental racism. Climate change impacts black communities first and the most, she said. The whole audience nodded in agreement.
But where to go from there?
The discussion could have begun and ended in the despair of clear and continued racial injustice, climate effects present and looming, but it didn’t.
A thread throughout the conversation was the importance of both resilience and softness—and imagination. Giddings brought up Janie and the pear tree in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the conversation returned to the image of that tree again and again as they spoke.
The most exemplary moment of both author’s brilliance regarding climate justice, however, was in the Q and A. A young person in the audience asked a question about endings—whether to end a story on a positive or realistic note. What did she think?
Giddings turned the question back towards her, gathering more information, getting the student’s perspective on her own experience as a reader.
After a bit of exchange Giddings seemed to give in to answering with what she said she tells her own students.
“You can build new endings,” she said. Then she added two questions: “Can you tell a story in a way to help people think of ways they can survive?” As far as a positive or negative ending is concerned, she added, “Is there an in between?”
Raboteau followed this with her own anecdote: In a conversation with the late Barry Lopez, she, too, wanted to know what the right way forward was when writing about climate injustices. “How do we strike a balance between hope and despair?”
“He didn’t give me an answer,” she said, laughing. Instead, he just told her yes, that was the right question.
Amanda Hawkins is author of the forthcoming poetry collection, The Art of Articulation. They won the 2023 Key West Literary Seminar Scotti Merrill Award for poetry.