American climate fiction is fuelling outdated ideas about modern migration


Wild fires on the US’s West Coast displaced many from their homes, making them climate change migrants.
Ringo Chiu/Shutterstock

Bryan Yazell, University of Southern Denmark

Typically set in the future, climate fiction (or “cli-fi”) showcases the disastrous consequences of climate change and anticipates the dramatic transformations to come. Among the various scenarios cli-fi considers is unprecedented population displacement due to droughts and disappearing coastlines. These stories echo assessments from the International Organization for Migration, which warned as early as 1990 that migration would perhaps be the “single greatest impact of climate change”.

The scale of climate change, which has unfolded over generations and across the planet, is notoriously difficult to represent in fiction. Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh elaborated on this problem in The Great Derangement. According to Ghosh, the political failure to combat climate change is a symptom of a deeper failure in the cultural imagination. Simply put, how can people be expected to care about something (or someone) they can’t adequately visualise?

When it comes to representing climate migration, prominent US cli-fi takes on this imaginative problem by returning to familiar templates. These ideas operate under assumptions about what drives migration and depends upon prejudices about who migrants are. For example, in some of these stories characters will be noticeably shaped by the stereotype of “illegal” immigrants from Latin America.

Employing such well-known ideas can help get points across about a potential future but there is a more compelling way to represent climate migration. Stories can be grounded in reality without entrenching harmful stereotypes or
disregarding the very real climate migrants who currently exist in the US today.

Precedents for climate migration

Paolo Bacigalupi’s novel, The Water Knife, is set around the US-Mexico border. Permanent drought in the Southwest has turned the region’s population into refugees who desperately seek passage into neighbouring states and — most optimistically — north into Canada.

Book cover for the Water Knife featuring futuristic trees

Orbit

The novel’s borderland setting is heavy with political subtext. The southern border looms large in anti-immigration campaigns, which perpetuate misleading claims that the region is under siege from migrant groups. However, the novel is less interested in dispelling these myths than in redirecting their emotional power.

Asking readers to imagine themselves in the shoes of Latin American migrants today is an effective tool in literature. For example, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath famously asked readers to sympathise with Dust Bowl migrants at a time when so-called “Okies” were subject to disdain. But Steinbeck’s novel also helped readers imagine these migrants’ plight by stressing how thoroughly American (and white) they were.

However, The Water Knife tasks readers with imagining the whole of the US becoming a country like Mexico. Angel, a central character in the novel, remarks that the violence he sees in Arizona reminds him of “how it had been down in Mexico before the Cartel States took control completely.” The book suggests here that the problems that drive large scale migration are not unique to any single part of the world, which is good. But at the same time, it also imagines a scenario where the societal violence associated with Mexico moves into the US. The warning is “change your behaviour now, lest you make the US like Mexico”. This doesn’t serve to help readers understand Mexico or the plight of migrants but reinforces ideas that both are bad realities we would rather avoid – to become Mexico and a refugee is to fail but if you act now you can avoid becoming like them.

The Water Knife demonstrates how narratives that wish to raise awareness about the plight of climate migrants must tread carefully. Hoards of desperate migrants are a common motif in apocalyptic science fiction, but they are also familiar subjects in xenophobic political campaigns.

So long as people believe that climate migration will only become a problem for wealthy countries in the future, they might also believe that they can simply close their borders to the climate migrants when they come. In the meantime, dehumanising stereotypes about refugee armies obscure the very real harm facing migrants in the US today. So, while these stories want to encourage a more sympathetic view of migrants, they can have the opposite effect.

A contemporary American problem

But climate migration isn’t just a problem for less affluent countries in the future. It is well underway in the US.

Two people walk through a flooded street.
Flooded streets in Louisiana after Hurricane Laura in 2020.
ccpixx photography/Shutterstock

From catastrophic wildfires on the West Coast to mega-hurricanes along the Gulf, environmental disasters already afflict large segments of the population. The effects of forced migration due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, for example, are apparent in the lower rate of return of New Orleans’s Black population.

To highlight cli-fi’s shortfalls is not to undermine its important contributions to environmental activism. These are stories that want to do more than raise the alarm. They want us to think more proactively about responding to disaster and caring for others now. This sense of urgency might explain why much of cli-fi depends upon pre-existing (and flawed) migrant stereotypes rather than ones more in step with climate migration today. Perhaps it’s quicker to push people to action by mobilising old ideas than constructing new ones.

However, these stories need not look to foreign cases or draw outdated parallels to make climate migration a compelling scenario. Rather, they can look inward to the ongoing climate crises afflicting Americans today. That these affected groups are disproportionately Indigenous and people of colour should remind us that the dystopian elements of many cli-fi stories (widespread corruption, targeted violence, and structural inequality) are facts of everyday life for many in this country. People should be shocked that these things are happening under their noses, enough to inspire action now rather than later for problems in the distant future.The Conversation

Bryan Yazell, Assistant Professor in the Department for the Study of Culture, University of Southern Denmark

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

143,518 US public library workers are keeping their communities informed, connected and engaged – but their jobs may be at risk


Nikki Luman works part-time for a public library in Sycamore, Ohio.
AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Rachel D. Williams, Simmons University; Christine D’Arpa, Wayne State University, and Noah Lenstra, University of North Carolina – Greensboro


CC BY-ND

America’s public library workers have adjusted and expanded their services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to initiating curbside pickup options, they’re doing many things to support their local communities, such as extending free Wi-Fi outside library walls, becoming vaccination sites, hosting drive-through food pantries in library parking lots and establishing virtual programs for all ages, including everything from story times to Zoom sessions on grieving and funerals.

In 2018, there were 143,518 library workers in the United States, according to data collected by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. While newer data isn’t available, the number is probably lower now, and recent history suggests more library jobs may be on the chopping block in the near future.

As library and information science researchers, we are concerned about library worker job insecurity.

During the Great Recession, the economic downturn between late 2007 and mid-2009, thousands of librarians and other library staff lost their jobs. As local governments cut spending on libraries, the size of that workforce shrank to 137,369 in 2012 from 145,499 in 2008.

Many library workers actively supported the recovery from that economic crisis in many creative ways. Some loaned patrons professional attire to wear for job interviews. Others helped local unemployed people gain basic financial literacy and digital skills.

Unfortunately, many of the Great Recession’s job losses were never completely overcome. There were about 2,000 fewer library workers in 2018 than in 2008, at the height of the crisis.

Library workers are again losing their jobs despite the important roles that libraries are playing today. According to preliminary data and news coverage collected by the Tracking Library Layoffs initiative, it’s clear that not all of the library workers furloughed since March 2020, when virtually all U.S. libraries were closed amid lockdowns, have been brought back on staff.

At the same time, many library workers have had to directly engage in person with the public throughout the pandemic, exposing them to health risks.

There are steps the federal government could take to protect the nation’s libraries.

For example, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recognized libraries among essential services. The federal government has not taken this step so far during the coronavirus pandemic.

Among other things, lacking this designation may have made it more difficult for librarians and other library staff members to get COVID-19 vaccines.

To date, the federal coronavirus relief packages have included a total of about US$250 million to support public libraries. These funds, distributed to state library agencies, amount to approximately $14,304 – about 1.7% of their annual revenue – for each of the nation’s 17,478 library branches and bookmobiles. We suspect that this infusion of cash will fall short of what’s needed to help public libraries and their workers recover from the tumult caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

[Over 100,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.]The Conversation

Rachel D. Williams, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science, Simmons University; Christine D’Arpa, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Sciences, Wayne State University, and Noah Lenstra, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science, University of North Carolina – Greensboro

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

More on 2021 Public Domain Arrivals in the USA


The links below are to further articles reporting on this year’s additions to the public domain.

For more visit:
https://teleread.org/2021/01/02/get-1925-lit-classics-for-free-fitzgerald-dreiser-hemingway-woolf-kafka-among-authors/
https://bookriot.com/public-domain-books-2021/

Works Now in the Public Domain in the USA


The links below are to articles that take a look at what works are now in the public domain in the USA.

For more visit:
https://lithub.com/everything-published-in-the-greatest-year-for-books-ever-is-now-in-the-public-domain/
https://ebookevangelist.com/2020/12/31/public-domain-day-2021-works-from-1925-are-in-the-public-domain/
https://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/these-are-all-of-the-new-ebooks-that-are-in-the-public-domain

How a mass suicide by slaves caused the legend of the flying African to take off



Like the best myths, the tale of Igbo Landing and the flying African seems to transcend boundaries of time and space.
Victor_Tongdee/iStock via Getty Images

Thomas Hallock, University of South Florida

In May 1803 a group of enslaved Africans from present-day Nigeria, of Ebo or Igbo descent, leaped from a single-masted ship into Dunbar Creek off St. Simons Island in Georgia. A slave agent concluded that the Africans drowned and died in an apparent mass suicide. But oral traditions would go on to claim that the Eboes either flew or walked over water back to Africa.

For generations, island residents, known as the Gullah-Geechee people, passed down the tale. When folklorists arrived in the 1930s, Igbo Landing and the story of the flying African assumed a mythological place in African American culture.

Though the site carries no bronze plaque and remains unmarked on tourist maps, it has become a symbol of the traumatizing legacy of trans-Atlantic slavery. Poets, artists, filmmakers, jazz musicians, griots, novelists such as Toni Morrison and pop stars like Beyoncé have all told versions of the tale.

They’ll often switch up the story’s details to reflect different times and places. Yet the heart of the original tale, one of longing for freedom, beats through each of these retellings. The stories continue to resonate because those yearnings – whether they’re from the cargo hold of a sloop or the confines of a prison cell – remain just as intense today.

Sourcing the story

As an academic trained in literary history, I always look for the reasons behind a story’s origins, and how stories travel or change over time. Variations of the flying African myth have been recorded from Arkansas to Canada, Cuba and Brazil.

Yet even as the many versions cut across the Black diaspora, the legend has coalesced around a single place: St. Simons. An entry in the Georgia Encyclopedia makes a direct correlation between the 1803 rebellion mass suicide and the later, literary folkloric tradition.

Why? One reason is geographic.

St. Simons, part of the archipelago that stretches from Florida to North Carolina, long remained separate from the mainland United States. This isolation allowed African customs to survive, where elsewhere they were assimilated or vanished. Historian Melissa L. Cooper describes the Gullah-Geechee people as cultural conservators, tasked in popular culture with the duties of preservation.

A sticker celebrating the Geechee heritage is seen on a pickup truck as passengers board a ferry.
The Gullah-Geechee are descendants of enslaved people who reside on the Southeast coast of the U.S.
AP Photo/David Goldman

Serendipity also played a role in siting the story. When a causeway from mainland Brunswick to St. Simons was built in 1924, folklorists literally followed a paved route into the past. During the New Deal, the Works Project Administration funded an oral history project that involved interviewing formerly enslaved people, and the flying African story was recorded in “Drums and Shadows,” the classic volume that published interviews from the project.

One Works Project Administration interviewer recorded St. Simons raconteur Floyd White asking, “Heahd about Ibo’s Landing. Das duh place weah dey bring duh Ibos obuh in a slabe ship.”

They “staht singing and de mahch right down in duh ribbuh” – Dunbar Creek – and “mahch back tuh Africa.” But they never get home, White adds: “Dey gits drown.”

Floyd White is a key source on the flying African, though as the hackneyed written transcription of his interview suggests, questions linger. The Ebos, by his account, walk, rather than fly, across the water. White allows that he does not personally believe the myth; he says they drowned.

Stories change, song remains the same

The flying African, despite a genealogy rooted in St. Simons, has no single point of origin. A shifting present continues to rewrite the past. These differences across versions only underscore the strength of the myth’s central core.

Take how music is used. In almost every account of Igbo Landing, the Africans sing before they fly. They chant in a dialect of Bantu, one of Africa’s 500 languages: “Kum buba yali kum buba tambe, / Kum kunka yalki kum kunka tambe.” Those words don’t have a direct translation; the words, more often, get described as secret, magical or lost.

But since the 1960s, in many retellings, the Bantu has been updated to the hymn “Oh Freedom,” an anthem first recorded after the Civil War and later popularized during the civil rights movement.

The storyteller Auntie Zya recounts the Igbo Landing legend in a YouTube post. To make the tale more relevant to children today, she launches into the familiar refrain, “And before I’d be a slave,” using the hymn to bridge the myth and a long struggle for civil rights.

And then there’s Toni Morrison’s novel “Song of Solomon,” the very title of which links music and flight. In the story, the novel’s main character, Milkman Dead, pieces together mysterious lyrics to recover a hidden past. Once he understands the song, he leaps from a Virginia cliff and flies away. Or is it suicide? The ending is famously ambiguous.

Toni Morrison talks about how, as a child, she was inspired by stories of enslaved African people flying home to their freedom.

Healing through flight

Like all powerful myths, Igbo Landing and the flying African transcend boundaries of time and space.

Experimental filmmaker Sophia Nahli Allison perceives memories from Dunbar Creek as an “ancestral map.” In a poetic narrative she lays over a dance montage, she muses: “Dreams are reality, time is relative, and the past, present, and future are melding together.” Allison suggests that the cross-generational continuity of the myth nurtures her, sustaining her voice through centuries of violence.

Children’s author Virginia Hamilton, likewise, offers the flying African as a script for healing. Her most famous story, “The People Could Fly,” broaches the difficult subject of the Middle Passage, the leg of the slave trade in which Africans, tightly packed in slave ships, were transported across the Atlantic Ocean.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter.]

Hamilton explains why some Africans had to leave their wings behind when forced to America. “They couldn’t take their wings across the water on the slave ships,” she writes. “Too crowded, don’t you know.”

How does a culture get those wings back?

Where some storytellers linger over haunting images, such as the chains supposedly still heard in Dunbar Creek, artists such as Morrison, Allison and Hamilton look forward. Their stories lay the groundwork for recovery.

Hamilton presents “The People Could Fly” as a direct form of hope. In a preface to her collection of that title, she explains how tales “created out of sorrow” carry Black America forward. She reminds readers: “Keep close all the past that was good, and that remains full of promise.” A painful past must be summoned in order to be redeemed.

Igbo Landing starkly illustrated, in 1803, how the choice between slavery and death was not a choice at all. Slavery, sociologist Orlando Patterson wrote, was also social death.

But it’s important to remember that joy doubles as a form of decolonization. Music threads through every version of the flying African legend. Magic words propel fieldworkers into the sky, “Kum yali kum buba tambe.” In song, our spirits lift.

And who among us does not dream of flight?The Conversation

Thomas Hallock, Professor of English, University of South Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2020 National Book Awards Winners


The links below are to articles reporting on the winners of the US National Book Awards for 2020.

For more visit:
https://bookriot.com/2020-national-book-awards/
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/nov/19/national-book-awards-charles-yu-and-malcolm-x-biography-take-top-prizes
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2020/11/23/159927/national-book-award-winners-announced/
https://publishingperspectives.com/2020/11/national-book-awards-yu-yu-callender-choi-payne-2020-covid19-usa/
https://lithub.com/here-are-the-winners-of-the-2020-national-book-awards/

Louise Glück: literature Nobel for American lyric poet a healing choice after years of controversy


Nikolai Duffy, Manchester Metropolitan University

Louise Glück is the first poet to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since Tomas Tranströmer in 2011 and the first American to win since Toni Morrison in 1993.

In their preference for the muddiness of everyday life over explicit engagement with their political and social issues, you can see a broad link between Glück and Tranströmer. On the surface, though, Morrison and Glück couldn’t appear to be more different. Morrison’s work lays bare both the lasting scars and the perennial nature of American trauma, whereas Glück’s work is altogether quieter, more local and apparently lacking that broad, socially and politically engaged canvas.

But look past the surface and there are affinities between the two writers. Since her early poems, Glück has been concerned with charting what it means to live as an individual in America. It is a nuanced, controlled form of lyric poetry that is as interested in what it has not been possible to say as what has been said – and the ways the latter haunts and shapes the former.

I dislike being herded into certainty”, Glück has written. We live in an age in which certainty is valued above almost anything else. We appear to want, for instance, the certainty of a vaccine against COVID-19, the certainty that the pandemic will be brought to heel, and the certainty that we will not die, at least not yet and not like this.

But there is something greatly important in remembering that life, in all its forms – social, political, personal – remains incomplete, uncertain, and endlessly revised.

In Parable of the Swans from the 1996 collection, Meadowlands, two swans live: “On a small lake off / the map of the world”. The two swans spend much of their time studying themselves, some of their time studying each other. Ten years later “they hit / slimy water”.

She continues:

Sooner or later in a long
life together, every couple encounters
some emergency like this, some
drama which results
in harm.

It is a parable of domestic life, devastating in its directness, even more so in the way such dramas are repeated interminably behind closed doors only to be shoved aside when the door opens, replaced by a public face that projects only possession and assurance.

Individual becomes universal

The Nobel committee has heralded Glück “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”. It is a blanket phrase that might be applied to much lyric poetry.

But what has made Glück’s concern with individual experience resonate over the years is its quiet insistence that that even in the private sphere, everything is touched – and shaped – by the public sphere. No matter what we each might claim to the contrary, we are all the products of the world around us.

And it’s upon these affects and consequences that Glück shines such a clarifying light. It has done so, not by telling us this, but by showing us the ways it can be done.

It is a humble corrective to the discourses of power and authority – so often male – that colour and corrupt great swaths of what we are encouraged to view as important. We are each answerable to how we choose to live, or as the poet puts it in Parable of the Swans: “love was what one did.”

Sidestepping controversy

There is an argument that, after two years of self-inflicted controversies and incomprehensible decisions, the Nobel committee has elected to play it safe this year. Glück is not a polarising poet. In any case, there was an expectation that the prize would be awarded to a non-European female writer.

There is also an argument that in awarding the prize to a white American writer whose work is often characterised by critics as not having an explicit political dimension, the committee has deliberately chosen to sidestep what could have been an important and timely intervention into the necessary debates about diversity and inclusivity – debates which run the risk of being rendered invisible by politicians’ more explicit desire to be seen to be waging war against the pandemic.

No doubt there is something to these arguments. But to criticise the award on both of these fronts is also to neglect the very particular qualities and resonances of Glück’s work. Her preference for the discretion of lyric poetry has something very specific to say about the lives we choose to lead.

As the poet writes in the final lines of the 2008 poem Dawn:

You get home, that’s when you notice the mold.
Too late, in other words.

As though the sun blinded you for a moment.

By drawing back a veil, Glück lets us see what is often overlooked, and the consequences that arise from the recklessness of not paying attention to ourselves and the way we live in the world.The Conversation

Nikolai Duffy, Senior Lecturer, Department of English, Manchester Metropolitan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2020 National Book Awards Shortlist


The links below are to articles reporting on the shortlists for the 2020 National Book Awards in the USA.

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2020/10/us-national-book-awards-announcing-the-2020-shortlisted-finalists-covid19/
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2020/10/07/157689/national-book-awards-2020-shortlists-announced/
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2020/10/07/157689/national-book-awards-2020-shortlists-announced/
https://lithub.com/here-are-the-finalists-for-the-2020-national-book-awards/
https://bookriot.com/2020-national-book-awards-finalists/

2020 Nobel Prize for Literature Winner


The links below are to articles reporting on the 2020 winner of the Nobel prize for Literature, Louise Gluck.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/live/2020/oct/08/nobel-prize-in-literature-2020-follow-the-announcement-live
https://lithub.com/i-feel-like-a-tracker-in-the-forest-following-a-scent-louise-gluck-on-how-she-writes/
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/oct/08/louise-gluck-where-to-start-with-an-extraordinary-nobel-winner
https://bookriot.com/2020-nobel-prize-in-literature/
https://bookriot.com/2020-nobel-prize-in-literature/
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/oct/09/louise-gluck-colm-toibin-on-a-brave-and-truthful-nobel-winner
https://lithub.com/louise-gluck-has-won-the-nobel-prize-for-literature/
https://lithub.com/louise-gluck-has-won-the-nobel-prize-for-literature/