Meet the Editors: Outgoing Managing Editor, Robyn Earhart
For twenty-five years, Water~Stone Review has been a collaborative passion project of students, faculty, and staff. Creative Writing Programs staff member, Meghan Maloney-Vinz serves as the journal’s executive editor, while established writers in the field act as contributing editors for each genre. Current MFA (creative writing) students work as invaluable editorial board members and assistant editors.
In this series of blog posts we introduce you to these incredible and accomplished contributors and editors. In her last post as managing editor, we hear from the incomparable, Robyn Earhart.
To the Water~Stone Review Community:
A few weeks into the fall of 2019, after the publication of Volume 22 “Tending to Fires”, I received a perplexing text message from my sister-in-law upon her receiving her purchased copy in the mail. She wanted to know if I had suggestions for how she should read the issue. I replied with what I now consider the most unhelpful of responses: Just read it how you would any other book. She was a voracious reader; we often talked about what books we were currently reading anytime we saw each other. Was a journal that much different from the fiction and YA books she liked to read? When she asked me a similar version of this question again after purchasing her copy of Volume 23, I realized then that to someone outside of the writing field, the concept of a literary journal may be quite unique.
When I first applied to graduate school at the Creative Writing Programs at Hamline University, I was already familiar with several literary journals, my favorite at the time being the now-defunct Tin House journal. What drew me to Hamline’s program was the opportunity presented for graduate students to work as editors and readers on Water~Stone Review, in addition to teaching students in the BFA program with the undergraduate literary journal, Runestone. I liked reading journals for their content, but classmates also shared with me how literary journals serve as a multitude of pathways for career progression. And who are the readers of journals? Writers. We read journals as part of our research for places to submit our work, to learn from studying the works of other writers, and for those like me who want to work in publishing, to discover new writers. Supporting literary journals is one way that writers can feel connected to others in a field that can often feel solitary and isolated. It’s one piece of our literary community.
Community. It’s a term that I understand differently now after three years in my post as managing editor. Community for WSR has always been our bread and butter — our journal has been an institution in the Twin Cities for twenty-five years. A critical need for an editorial position like mine has been both to provide a learning opportunity for a student and for someone to connect with our audience of contributors and readers. When I accepted the position, I was thrilled to take over managing the “In The Field” interview series on our blog. Many of the interviews I conducted with our contributors deepened naturally into private conversations I chose to keep offline. I’ve cherished talking with Kristin Laurel on the arduous work of healing from great loss; I’ve felt affirmed with Noah Davis on changing societal perceptions of rural populations in nature writing; and I’ve just enjoyed waxing poetic with E.A. Farro on how to engage with non-scientists on issues of climate and ecosystem deviation and change.
Yes, my work was mostly done in the solitude of my house, but somehow, interacting with and promoting the work of our contributors had allowed me to bridge a divide and feel connected to a community of people I admire and respect. I’ve cheered on the sidelines as Halee Kirkwood was selected for the 2022 In-Na-Po Poetry Fellowship with Poet Laureate Joy Harjo; as Keith Lesmeister and Denton Loving expand the insightful work of East Over Press with a forthcoming fiction anthology of rural writers of color; and as Su Hwang, Sheila O’Connor, Carolyn Holbrook, and Kao Kalia Yang won Minnesota Book Awards (among the many WSR contributors honored as finalists) in the past three years. It’s been a true joy to see Michael Kleber-Diggs and Allison Wyss, two contributors I’ve admired for many years, publish their debut books to glowing reviews. Tt’s even funny when your own husband sees a contributor’s name in the media and says “Isn’t that so-and-so that you’re always mentioning?”
Since her initial question to me, I’ve had a few conversations with my sister-in-law about how to read a Water~Stone Review. In teaching her, I hope I’ve invited her to feel a part of this community as well, to join the fold of writers and readers who look forward to each issue in the fall. To see their work, or the work of their loved ones, in a beautiful print journal with curated photographs that mirror images and themes of written work, carefully constructed by writers, editors, artists, printers, and local distributors in the Twin Cities community. To see the mutual aid resources, the connections created with other local organizations, and the work of all contributors—past and present (always)—hyped up and shared around on our social media accounts. I’ve felt fortunate to learn that a literary journal like WSR truly is the work and love of community.
As I began to transition out of my position, I had the privilege of reading the final pieces selected for publication in Volume 25, forthcoming this fall. I wish I could mention here whose work you’ll enjoy reading soon, but I’ll leave that honor I’ve always enjoyed up to the new managing editor, Rachel Guvenc. But I will say this: after three issues of raging fires, a hunger for something intimate, and the ghosts that continue to haunt us, I witnessed resilience and redemption resonating in several forthcoming pieces. They bring to mind that literary journals, like the human spirit, will always continue to exist, for us all.
With an abundance of gratitude,
Robyn Earhart lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with her husband and pets.
In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Christina Olson
I noticed that both your poems “[…]” and “Gut” published in Volume 24 compliment each other as they both veer into the field of a strained relationship with a father. How do you use the medium of poetry to explore painful experiences such as strained familial relationships?
I wish I had a better answer to this question, but the simple one is that like many writers, articulating something in a poem helps me articulate it in my mind. So writing out the details of the strained relationship with my father in poetry helps me give voice and shape to the relationship. It also helps me establish my version of the story, because god knows he and I are not having that conversation at the present moment. I’m writing the narrative of how I see the story unfolding, my version of these true events.
I really resonated with the poem “Gut” as I have often struggled with my own weight. Although it wasn’t as much the content of the poem as it was the specific details you used that drew me in. For example, I could visualize the mother’s Slim-Fast stored in the garage. I was also drawn in by the father’s viewpoint. My favorite line being, “Why can’t a woman with a soft body, once such a source of pleasure, keep her body just as soft but not more?” How did you go about choosing specific details to give the poem its fresh form?
Again, I wish I had a better answer to this question but the truth is that these are very autobiographical details. There were cans of Slim-Fast in the garage and women’s bodies were very much open to discussion and critique in our 90’s household, and yeah, my father was clearly unhappy that his wife’s body had changed since birthing children (the horror). As a young woman in that household, privy to all that dieting and body talk, it is something that I still carry deep in me today. I am still unpacking it today.
This poem came from an exercise that the visiting writer Tiana Clark (who is the greatest) gave my poetry workshop. I wrote alongside my students; she wanted them to write a poem about a body part a la Ross Gay’s “Feet” and I was like “oh I have to join in on this one because the word ‘gut’ lives rent-free in my head.” I absolutely stole that mid-poem turn from Ross, by the way: the moment in the poem about midway through where he says “But did you really think I’m talking to you about my feet?”
Also, if what I’m writing here about bodies and the 1990s in particular resonates with anyone, please go listen to the podcast Maintenance Phase. And if you’re already a listener, become a subscriber!
You have two full length poetry books published as well as three chapbooks, including the 2019 Rattle Chapbook Prize winner The Last Mastodon. What are the advantages and disadvantages to writing a chapbook versus a larger volume of poetry?
Chapbooks give me a tidy place to explore one or two things without fearing that any more length will distend or water down what I want the narrative arc of the book to be. I know many poets don’t think about the narrative arc in a book of poetry, but I do, constantly. It doesn’t need to be the simplistic hero’s journey or anything like that, but rather I’m always thinking about the release of information over the course of a manuscript, and what transpires from the first poem to the last. Some topics I’m interested in don’t have quite the substance or the intensity to be sustained for 60-80 pages. They are much, much more compelling and deep at 15-25 pages.
One thing that was helpful to me, to reframe my thinking, was that when I first started writing I assumed that a chapbook was just like “here are someone’s best 20 poems while they work on a longer work.” And some chapbooks do read like that to me, and that’s okay! But I’ve learned that I prefer to use the chapbook format for topics that maybe are more inherently experimental, or (like I said) can’t sustain an 80-page narrative for some reason. I have really, really come to love the challenge of a chapbook format these days. The brevity is its own set of formal constraints.
I noticed that you are a former editor at Midwestern Gothic as well as a professor at Georgia Southern University. How have these careers helped and/or hindered your own creative writing process?
Both roles give me the privilege and opportunity to constantly be talking about, thinking about, and teaching writing product and process, and both keep me in contact with authors and editors of all levels. I don’t have anything disparaging to say about not having time or energy for my own writing, or how grading student work means I have less time for my own work; I find that the opposite is true. I feel energized by being part of these communities and I feel very, very lucky to have them.
I’ve been known to assign collections of poetry that I didn’t get into on my first read as texts for my advanced classes simply because the weeks we spend talking about those books help deepen and challenge my personal reading of the texts, and I can think of a couple collections that I really appreciate now because of the conversations Advanced Poetry Writing students at Georgia Southern had about them. (I don’t introduce the books as “here’s one I sort of disliked,” ha ha ha. That would be uncool. These are more like books that everyone seems to love and I sort of like but I feel that maybe I’m missing what everyone else is so jazzed about.)
There are themes of science and history in your pieces which is especially noticeable in The Last Mastodon. How do you use research to inspire your craft?
I could talk about this for hours (and I do in some talks I give, yikes) so the short answer is that I’m very inspired by the limitations of a historical or scientific fact. The task of making that fact into art without compromising its inherent scientific or historical accuracy, this is something I find fun. Whenever I teach creative nonfiction, I always say that just because something is true, that doesn’t make it inherently interesting. It’s on the writer to discover how to shape the story of that truth into a compelling read, which, when successful, is even more compelling because it’s “a true story.”
Also, now I’m friends with a couple scientists, and I am legit scared to subvert their life’s work for the sake of a clever line in a poem. That was a rule I made for myself when working on Mastodon, and it’s served me well in matters of both veracity and craft. Like, who wants to piss off a bunch of paleontologists that were kind enough to let you hold tusks and share their whiskey?
What and/or who inspires your poetry?
Science, zoology, biology, history, food history, family, the mating habits of the grey kangaroo, the coney-style hot dog, Ernest Shackleton, horseshoe crabs, and the stories we tell ourselves about all of the above.
What are you currently working on?
I have a third full-length collection, The Anxiety Workbook, out with some presses at the moment—that book is, surprise!, all about anxiety (both “Gut” and “[…]” appear in it). And I’m about to head to Norway to collaborate once again with the amazing stone carver/visual artist Laura Moore. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Christina Olson is the author of Terminal Human Velocity (Stillhouse Press, 2017). Her chapbook The Last Mastodon won the Rattle 2019 Chapbook Contest. Other work appears in The Atlantic, The Nation, The Normal School, Scientific American, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Best Creative Nonfiction. She is an associate professor at Georgia Southern University and tweets about coneys and mastodons as @olsonquest.
In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Maria Zoccola
The following interview was conducted between contributor Maria Zoccola and assistant poetry editor Trisha Daigle discussing Maria’s poem “self-portrait as god” in Volume 24 and Maria’s work. The featured image, I SURRENDER, was created by Genesis TRAMAINE and included as a panel in 2019 at the Paul Robeson Gallery on Rutgers University.
I was immediately drawn to your poem “self-portrait as god” in Volume 24. It takes a certain amount of pluck to pull off a poem where the speaker takes the voice of god. What works for me in this poem though is that god takes on sorrow and regret. There is a humility to it. Art has often bestowed god with human emotions, but rarely do we see god as frail and uncertain. What was the motivation behind this poem? What made you decide to write as god?
In the poem, the concept of god swerves dramatically between God as creator to the creating god inside the human animal. It blurs; it blends until the two are a single entity of anxiety and regret, a consciousness that expands and collapses under and through the weight of in/determinism. At the core of the poem, I needed the speaker—this being that is sometimes mortal and sometimes not—to accept blame. To hold that blame inside them.
You are kind of on fire right now. Recently, you won a Dogwood Award, and your short story, “We Hold Our Treasures, We Bury Them” was a Best of the Net finalist. On your website you have listed 19 forthcoming publications for 2022, including a set of Helen of Troy poems that will appear in the Kenyon Review. Tell me a little about these poems. What was the inspiration behind Helen of Troy?
Oh, thank you so much for asking! I’m pretty jazzed about the Helen project. I’m a total Iliad nerd, and about a year ago I started writing persona poems in the voices of women from the epic—I had an Andromache poem in a recent issue of Grain, for example, and there’s an Iphigenia poem forthcoming from Salt Hill. I hadn’t touched Helen, though. She didn’t excite me the way the others did; there was no sense of doom about her, no scythe waiting just offscreen. She bounces through the Trojan War in safe luxury and then goes home with her former husband to resume the throne of Sparta. Isn’t there something just a little bit maddening about that? Aren’t you kind of on the side of the other gals, the ones who finish their run slain or enslaved?
But I finally sat down—grudgingly—to try a Helen poem. And completely shocked myself, because what came out on the page was this hilarious, disaffected housewife, this stifled, cliff-edge woman grasping for agency in a world that was not Bronze-Age Greece but instead the hills of my own Tennessee in the early nineties. It was like all the lights in the house turned on at once. I knew her, and I knew following her voice was going to be the work of more than just a poem or two. I’m maybe two-thirds of the way through a full-length manuscript now, and getting to share Helen poems with some of my favorite journals has been immensely validating. Other people are hearing her voice now, too.
A lot of your poems deal with transmutation and fantastical creatures. I think a lot of poets go through this shedding of skin, this molding an identity that feels more true to them than their old selves. I’ve heard that a lot of writers’ first books/early work lean toward coming of age, or young heroes’ journeys. Does this feel true for you? Are your new poems similar in style?
Fantasy and mythology allow us to take hold of emotions and concepts too enormous or amorphous to nail down in our own lives and begin to understand them in a way that is both outside and inside the realities of our lived experiences. Abandonment, grief, longing, even coming of age—these are high-stakes themes that feel differently to us when examined through the familiar or surprising rhythms of folklore, of known entities. Cooler to the touch, perhaps. Consumed in a way that doesn’t scar the throat going down. Sometimes the catgut emotions of real life vibrate too fast to hear the music within them. You’re too close to the canvas; all you see is paint splatter. For me, at least, the fantastical allows me to step back and see the way the brushstrokes line up to create art.
Speaking of new work, what are you writing these days? Or are you working on any big projects?
Helen is taking up most of my poetry brain these days, but I’ve also been starting to explore through my work what it means to be a girl raised by and in Memphis and the Mississippi Delta. It’s an enormous set of questions, and there are a thousand ways to get at the answers, some that hurt and some that heal.
All of your poems are written without capital letters. Is this simply a stylistic choice?
Fiction writing feels to me like marching into the world, like declaring myself into a microphone. Poetry feels so very different. Poetry feels like whispering, like passing notes under a desk, like drawing letters in ocean foam that run together and dissolve. The lowercase is a way of keeping that feeling even on the page.
I used to manage a wonderful nonprofit program that put creative writing workshops into public middle schools. Emotions are huge when you’re twelve. They’re all-consuming. When they got too big to fit inside a single body, I’d head out to the hallway with the young writer so we could sit on the floor with our backs against the cinderblock wall. Feet thudded past. Announcements blared overhead. Doors slammed. And the two of us kept talking quietly underneath it all, on the ground, our hearts in our hands. Lowercase feels like that.
Who are some of your favorite writers, poets, thinkers?
To keep the Iliad theme, I’ll start with Alice Oswald! Memorial is all-consuming. Anne Carson, of course. I had the privilege as a college freshman to take a class with Natasha Trethewey, and even after a whole semester of sitting two desks away from her in the workshop circle, I was still so in awe that I never got up the courage to ask her to sign my copy of Native Guard. The head of the creative writing department was Jericho Brown, and somehow I did find the courage to ask for his signature on Please. In a completely different genre, I’ve devoured everything Naomi Novik has ever written and am in agony waiting for her next book.
I’m always curious about a writer’s process. What does your process look like? From where do you draw inspiration?
Someday I’m actually going to learn how to write, and then I won’t have to figure it out all over again from scratch each time I turn the page in my notebook.
Maria Zoccola is a queer Southern writer with deep roots in the Mississippi Delta. She has writing degrees from Emory University and Falmouth University. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, The Massachusetts Review, Salamander, and elsewhere. You can learn more about her and her work at her website.
In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Kasey Payette
“We’re Not Weird About It” in Volume 24 is about a young person exploring their sexuality in the space of attending church events. What was the inspiration behind this story? How did it come to be?
“We’re Not Weird About It” is a fictional narrative based on my own experiences with Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity as a teen. In adulthood, through my writing, I keep returning to those settings because I’m fascinated with the general sense of longing that was so present in those spaces. I have written quite a bit of fiction involving church youth groups, including an in-progress novel manuscript, and I wrote this piece of flash fiction at a time when I was desperate to cut right to the core of what I was trying to say.
Is religion a theme you explore a lot in your writing? Does it show up in work that you like to read?
Absolutely. As a Virgo (hello, astrology-heads!) I often say I have a religious personality, although I am not necessarily a religious person. I am endlessly interested in the systems and narratives we lean on to make sense of our mind-boggling mortality, and the communities and subcultures that form around these narratives. Christianity and its intersections with empire and capitalism is a major factor in our cultural landscape, and as a person who is at least culturally Christian, I feel a huge amount of responsibility to engage with it. In my literary writing, I intentionally try to break religious experiences down to their most sensual, corporeal elements, and let that be the gateway to a broader commentary. As a reader, I definitely seek out religious themes as well. Recently, I particularly enjoyed the cult sub-plot in Louise Erdrich’s novel Plague of Doves. I also like to listen to theology stuff on audiobook (please hit me up with recommendations!) and have been listening to Cynthia Bourgeault’s The Meaning of Mary Magdalene.
So many readers shared with us how they loved that you used collective first-person POV, and yet the quiet distillation of meaning reveals that the speaker uses that as a safety mechanism. Did you try this story in a different POV? What made you decide this one was the right fit?
Great question! I have written other fictional pieces with a similar theme and setting to “We’re Not Weird About It” but using a close third-person POV. When I tried doing flash fiction on this subject matter using the collective first-person, I was delighted by the sudden sense of momentum and breathlessness it offered. In my fiction, I am very interested in exploring ecstatic group experiences—the simultaneous delight and danger in operating as a collective—and in this case, the first-person collective voice (and the switch to first-person singular near the end) was able to do a lot of the heavy lifting to illustrate the layers of safety, meaning, and delusion that group identity can provide.
I’m curious about the use of subtle irony. What made you decide that irony worked and that the point the story is making wasn’t lost for readers?
I tend to use quite a bit of humor and irony in my writing, and I’m now at a point where I trust myself with it. It’s my natural tone, but it still feels risky at times. As with everything I write with the intent to publish, I ran several drafts of this piece past my writing group to make sure it was coming across as I intended.
I was really struck by the line, “Pretty makes sin come easy; pretty saves you, then gives you away.” That line is really telling in what this young speaker is grappling with. I’m wondering if you would be willing to expand on it and fancy us with what your intention was with it.
For people socialized as women, particularly within certain Christian contexts, there’s always this tension between desirability and modesty. As a Christian youth, I remember sometimes wishing I was more conventionally pretty (read: thinner and more feminine—traits I somehow equated with being a better Christian), but also feeling a strange superiority at not having the right body, not having the right clothes. Certain “sins”— partying, drinking, having sex with boys—seemed so out of reach for me at the time that they simply were not a temptation. I could see the risk and danger in being perceived as attractive, and was not sure I wanted that.
How might stories like “We Not Weird About It” help us to explore who we are and the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden? How might more stories like this help readers, maybe even young readers, learn and shape healthy and safe perspectives on sexuality, autonomy, personal rights and freedoms?
This is a big question! I think what I’ll say, as a writer and teacher of writing, is that I think “We’re Not Weird About It” could be used as the basis for a writing prompt: Write a narrative using the first-person collective from the perspective of a group you’ve been a part of where you felt you both fit in and didn’t fit in. Somewhere in the narrative, switch to using first-person singular to say or confess something purely as yourself, possibly using the construction, “Between you and me, I…”
Something I love about this story is that it feels like it could be an essay. There is a grave truth in this story. We were fortunate to publish your essay “Preserves” in Vol. 21. Are you attracted to writing that blends genres or could be considered hybrid?
Especially with flash pieces, the designation of “fiction” or “nonfiction” seems less important to me than the overall impression the narrative has on the reader. I’ve written a few pieces, including “We’re Not Weird About It,” that come close enough to examining my lived experience to count as a personal essay, but are inventive and story-like enough to count as fiction. I honestly haven’t thought much about whether to label my work “hybrid” or “genre-bending,” but I’d like to mull that over more, especially as I approach a point where publishing an essay collection or short story collection might be a real possibility for me.
What do you think a good piece of flash writing needs? Is this a form you write in a lot? Do you have favorite pieces or writers that you love?
I love the short form. I think good flash pieces require urgency, even to the point of desperation. The reader should feel that the author has something to say, and that they need to say it right now. Some of my major influences for flash fiction are Lydia Davis, Amy Hempel, and Lindsay Hunter.
The title of Vol. 24, “Ghost(s) Still Living” comes out of a line from a poem included by Heather A. Warren. Given all that’s occurred in our world in the past few years, what does the idea of “ghosts still living” mean to you?
Oof. I found Heather’s poem deeply affecting, especially in this moment in history. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I feel like so many parts of my life and identity have died in the past couple of years. Both as a direct result of and set against the backdrop of the global pandemic, racial reckoning sparked by the murder of George Floyd, escalating climate crisis, and on and on, I am not the same person I was in 2019, and I’ll never be that person again. In some ways I feel like a more faded and more tired person waiting to come back to life, like a ghost. It seems like we’re all wandering around as compromised versions of ourselves—ghosts still living. I wish I had something more eloquent to say about this. I wish I had something more hopeful to say about this.
What projects are you working on now?
In theory I am working on my novel manuscript (working title: This Is My Body) which is similar to “We’re Not Weird About It” in setting and theme, but in reality I’ve mostly been writing essays these past couple of years. I’m realizing I’m probably much closer to having an essay collection than I am to having a finished novel.
Kasey Payette is a fiction writer and essayist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her work has appeared in CALYX, Gulf Coast, Juked, Revolver, and Water~Stone Review. Her writing has been supported by the Loft Literary Center’s Mentor Series program and the Minnesota State Arts Board. She is currently at work on her first novel. You can follow her on Instagram @kaseypayette.
In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—E.A. Farro
In your essay from Vol. 24, “Whatever Discomfort, Find Beauty”, the speaker directly addresses the reader during a trip in the Never Summer mountain range in Colorado. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind this piece? How did it come to be?
I spent the first decade of my career as a field geologist. I’d live off-grid in a tent for days or weeks at a time collecting samples to study ancient periods of climate warming. The physical intimacy with the landscape was a kind of poetry. I found things I lost in the city when I went into remote wilderness. My relationship to essays is deeply tied to trying to find a language for those experiences.
Nature is very much a character in this essay. The speaker is interacting with water and sediment, adding and removing layers of clothing depending on the movements of the sun, trying to avoid moose in the wild. Did you take notes on your excursion? Take photos? When you sit down to write and paint a realistic scene like this from memory, what’s your process for writing it to how you remember it?
The first tool I acquired as a geologist was a Rite-in-the-Rain notebook. It was small and yellow and had a waxy feel. Even when I got a rock hammer and an ice ax, it was still my notebook that made me feel most powerful. I used it to record data and the location of lakes we sampled, but I also free-wrote thoughts, poetry, and observations. I rely on those notebooks to transport me back with both their content and the muddy fingerprints. Field work is physical, hard, and repetitive. The memory comes as much from my body as my mind.
One of the aspects from it that our readers loved is how deftly it moves through time. I’m curious—is there an earlier draft of this essay that is longer? Was it difficult to keep it concise without meandering too far from the structure?
This essay is part of a collection my agent is sending out for publication consideration, Fieldnotes from the Anthropocene. I wrote this piece thinking it would merge or expand, but, ultimately, I decided to let it breathe on its own.
Let’s talk about that title! To me it reads like a mantra for seeking deeper meaning to our world. I most connected it to the line “Your life is a blip, a yelp, a fleeting moment out of the thousands of years archived in cores of mud piled up on the platform behind you.” Would you be willing to indulge us and expand on what the title means to you and how you wish for readers to experience it?
As a geologist I exist in two different scales of time, almost like living in parallel worlds. Collecting samples to study changes in climate over thousands of years puts time into perspective. The title is a call to connect with the beauty of landscape and sky and water alongside our immediate human concerns—not to dismiss our human needs, but to remember that we are part of something large and wild.
You’re a climate scientist and you have free zines available on your website. What made you decide to make your work accessible for free, and also, what do you hope for people to know about these zines? What do you hope people will do with them?
In August, my husband had a breakthrough case of COVID and our family quarantined for a long time. I made a stop-motion animation of my zine, Solving Climate Change Together. I mixed Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” and Glass Animals’ “Heat Wave,” thinking about the music of climate change. This video is the culmination of several pandemic projects.
Early in the pandemic I took awesome free online classes through the Minnesota Center for Book Arts with my kids. Our whole life was taking place at our dining room table, and for a brief period we’d clear away the distance learning and work to create. When it warmed up, I met up outside with a group of artists now organized in zines about warmth by the amazing Karine Rupp Stanko. When I saw a class by Regula Russelle called Zine Making Against Climate Change—I had to take it. Russelle talks about zines as the most democratic form of publishing. Anyone can make and distribute them. That really inspires me.
In my zine Science and Scientist, I humanize the scientific process. In Solving Climate Change Together, I share my takeaway from working in politics that effective policy making needs to braid science with other ways of knowing and other kinds of expertise—I am using the word “braid” as a reference to the powerful book, Braiding Sweetgrass by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer.
Who are some of your favorite climate-scientist/eco-lit writers?
I love the Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin – sci-fi about coming in contact with aliens and understanding the physical boundary conditions of life on a planet. It is a page turner packed with academic theory, which I didn’t know was possible. The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupe`ry similarly shows how our spirit is tied to place. Without the fun of aliens, Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels has gorgeous exploration of landscape and identity. Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights makes me so aware of my body and my body on the landscape. I want to read it over and over. Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams does an amazing job of moving between the personal and the universal and making clear what is at stake in the level of a lake.
I also love to read field guides. Field guides to ferns, aquatic plants, trees, wildflowers. I keep them by my desk and on my nightstand.
I see the landscape as a character in these books. But, for me, landscape is a character in all books.
What projects are you working on now?
I am working on a novel, Providence Murder Ballad. I grew up in a city full of ghosts. I drank from the fountain cursed by H.P. Lovecraft and visited a loved one in the same psychiatric hospital where his parents died. Walking to my best friend’s, I passed where Edgar Allan Poe lived when he came to court his beloved. Going out on Federal Hill, I passed the Coin O’Matic used by Mob boss Raymond Patriarca to launder money. Providence, my hometown, is a character in the book along with all its ghosts. But at its heart, the book is about the romance, betrayal, and importance of our childhood friendships.
E.A. Farro is a climate scientist who spent several years working in politics. She is the founder of The Nature Library, a literary art installation in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her publications have appeared in The Rumpus, Kenyon Review, and The Normal School, among others. She is a recipient of a 2010 Loft Literary Center Mentor Award and a 2019 Minnesota State Arts Board grant. You can learn more about her work at her website.