Symposium 2022 – Day One Program

Welcome to the CCCW 2022 Symposium program guide for Wednesday 22 June 2022. The symposium will commence with an In Conversation Session with Noongar speculative writer Claire G. Coleman. This will be followed by a series of papers ranging from a panel on AustLit, to Green Theatre-Making, to Writing the Anthropocene and much more. In the evening listen to a keynote address by international climate fiction theorist Professor Adeline Johns-Putra (Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou, China). Please note that this page will be updated with additional details closer to the event. View schedule for Thursday 23 June. 

Register for entire symposium


In Conversation with Claire G. Coleman

The Writers Studio, Level 6 Michie Building (9)


Catered Morning Tea

The Writers Studio, Level 6 Michie Building (9)


Papers 1 

AustLit Panel, The Writers Studio, Level 6 Michie Building (9)


Papers 2–3 (Parallel Sessions)

Poetics and Poesis, The Writers Studio, Level 6 Michie Building (9)

Affect in the Anthropocene 1, Room 642 Michie Building (9)


Papers 4–5 (Parallel Sessions)

Anthropocenic Time(s), The Writers Studio, Level 6 Michie Building (9)

Writing the Anthropocene, Room 642 Michie Building (9)


Keynote Address: Professor Adeline Johns-Putra

The Writers Studio, Level 6, Michie Building (9)


Associate Professor Stephen Carleton 

Stephen is the Director of the UQ Centre for Critical and Creative Writing and a Brisbane-based playwright and academic. His plays have been produced across Australia and won awards including the Griffin Theatre Award (2015) for The Turquoise Elephant, the Matilda Award for Best New Australian Play (2017) for Bastard Territory, and the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award (2005) and New Dramatists’ Award (2006) for Constance Drinkwater and the Final Days of Somerset. Those plays and others including musical Joh for PM (2017, with Paul Hodge), and The Narcissist (2007), have been shortlisted for a range of awards including the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award, the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award, Queensland Literary Awards (Drama), and two AWGIEs.

Dr Helen Marshall

Helen is the Deputy Director of the UQ Centre for Critical and Creative Writing and a Senior Lecturer of Creative Writing at the School of Communication and Arts.  She has won the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson Award for her two collections of short stories. Her debut novel The Migration released last year argued for the need to remain hopeful, even in the worst circumstances. It was one of The Guardian’s top science fiction books of the year and was recently optioned by Clerkenwell Films.

Dr Chris Hay 

Chris is an Australian theatre and cultural historian teaching and researching in the Drama program in the School of Communication and Arts, currently working on an ARC DECRA-funded project about the origins of live performance subsidy in Australia between 1949 and 1975. In this work, as in all of his research, Chris is particularly interested in what funded cultural output can tell us about national pre-occupations and anxieties. Along with this historical focus, Chris is working on a book project about contemporary Australian mainstage theatre after the Kevin07 election, as well as the Australian component of a project on the cultural history of the Eurovision Song Contest outside Europe. Chris's teaching responsibilities at UQ include theatre history, performance production, and script analysis. Chris welcomes applications for higher degree research at MPhil or PhD level in any of these areas.

Claire G. Coleman


The Writers Studio, Level 6 Michie Building (also available online)

Claire G. Coleman in conversation with Isobelle Carmody

Join rising star of the Australian literary scene, fiction writer and poet Claire G Coleman in conversation with Isobelle Carmody, as they discuss Coleman’s Norma K Hemming award-winning novel, Terra Nullius. The novel reimagines the colonial invasion of Australia through a speculative fiction lens, replaying familiar settler-invader histories on this continent in a savage, climate-ravaged future. Coleman and Carmody will discuss the fresh perspectives on well-worn histories, narratives and genres that Indigenous writers are bringing to Australian literature.

Claire G. Coleman is a Noongar woman whose family have belonged to the south coast of Western Australia since long before history started being recorded. She writes fiction, essays, poetry and art criticism while either living in Naarm (Melbourne) or on the road.

Isobelle Carmody is one of Australia’s most well-known writers, and has won a string of awards, from a Ledger Award for the graphic novel Evermore to multiple Aurealis Awards. Carmody writes in the fantasy genre, but she has also written science fiction and horror for young adults.

Papers 1: AustLit Panel (Climate change and hope in the archive, in activism, and in story)


Chair: Dr Deb Jordan

The Writers Studio, Level 6 Michie Building (also available online)

‘The virus manufactures really dangerous ideas as arsenal’: contextualising climate fiction
Presented by Dr Deb Jordan (in-person)

Alexis Wright opens The Swan Book (2013) with an account of a pure full blood virus which manufactures really dangerous ideas as arsenal. A decade earlier historian Tom Griffiths and critic Libby Robin challenged us to think about Australian literature and history as paradigmatic for global narratives of climate change given a sustainable Indigenous culture and imperialism. Now with the Anthropocene and colonialism more in focus, is it more important to address Kim Stanley Robinson’s contention that we must imagine the end of capitalism rather than the end of the world?

The seed vault of ideas
Presented by Dr Catriona Mills (in-person)

When people list the professions necessary to rebuild the world after an apocalypse, bibliographers rarely make the list. But bibliography and archival practices have a role to play in the tracking, preserving, and remembering of story, including the story of catastrophe. This paper thinks through the function of bibliography in a time of climate change, drawing on the metaphor of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Both bibliography and vault were developed from disparate conservation projects, which recognised the value of consolidating their resources to preserve their data. Both store items that seem small, especially individually, but which have great potential, especially en masse. And both are vital to any act of recovery.

Taking action
Presented by Dr Robyn Gulliver (in-person)

Writing on environmental activism often showcases iconic campaigns with personable heroes, or conversely, dwells in the apparent failure of this activism to address our escalating environmental crisis. Yet hidden behind these two binaries are tens of thousands of women taking action every day across Australia to help avoid a climate catastrophe. Narrative non-fiction climate writing provides a unique opportunity to write this alternative vision of the Anthropocene. In this section Robyn will recount selected stories, motivations and achievements of women featured in her book The Advocates: Women Within the Australian Environmental Movement (2021). These cautious narratives of hope offer an alternative and empowering view of what lies ahead.

Narratives of hope for all ages
Presented by Dr Andrea Baldwin (in-person)

One tenet of narrative therapy is that stories offer a way to make sense of experience, especially experience that seems fragmented, chaotic and overwhelming. In the age of social media, most Westerners’ daily experience includes a cacophony of information through which impending climate doom is the bass track. While it seems environmental journalism and climate commentary are beginning to ascend, eco-fiction remains ‘a hard sell’ in the publishing world. In this section, Andrea discusses eco-fiction as situated among commercial imperatives, aesthetic values and reader needs. She argues that narratives of hope for all ages – from early childhood to old age – are required to support aspects of emotional wellbeing that enable empowerment and positive action.


Papers 2: Poetics and Poesis


Chair Dr Tom Doig

The Writers Studio, Level 6 Michie Building (also available online)

“Send the Report with Your Body:” Recuperating the Human Body in Ecopoetry
Presented by Madeleine Dale (in-person)

The human body is an understudied site of tension in contemporary ecopoetics. Differing ideological and historic approaches to the field trouble a unified understanding of the body’s place or function, while key ecocritical tenets make considerable and often paradoxical literary demands on any representation of the human. In attempting to negotiate ecopoetry’s central areas of concern, the poetic body is often reduced to a didactic villain, or superficially elided from the poem. This paper explores an alternative approach to the ecopoetic body, as articulated by the work of American ecopoet Brenda Hillman. I propose that Hillman’s portrayal of the human body demonstrates the possibility for richer and more complex – yet still ecocritical – treatments of this subject. In this paper, I focus particularly on one mode of Hillman’s poetic bodies: the body carrying an ecopoetic message. Rather than shouldering the considerable weight of ecocritical ideology, these bodies are more frequently not notably ecopoetic in their action or construction. They are largely drawn from myth, history, or religion, further disturbing the nature / culture divide often reinscribed by contemporary ecopoetry. However, their presence consistently conveys and strengthens the work’s ecocritical concepts, harnessing the rich literary and cultural capital of the human body to the ecopoetic project. In this way, Hillman offers a promising alternative role for the body, one which strengthens ecopoetic portrayals of both the human and the nonhuman.

Poetry as incounter in the present of present things: re-imagining wicked problem thinking in the Anthropocene
Presented by Dr Anne B. Stuart (in-person)

St. Augustine writes that “the present of past things is memory; the present of present things is perception; and the present of future things is expectation.1 If, as Timothy Morton pronounces, wicked problems are like poems, poems being provisional in how we read them, 2 can we then read a poem to challenge our present thinking in the Anthropocene to reflect on our expectations for the future? Correspondingly, should we ask ourselves: what work is climate change doing for us?

I illustrate that (eco)poetry in phenomenological “dialogue” with things, can “bring-forth” (in poiesis) an argument that nonhuman life is neither passive nor unable to convey meaningful expression. I consider that matter actively suggests a form to the artisan, the poet, where that form becomes a disclosive, bringing-forth.

This paper will read a poetics which thinks from the environment, showing nonhumans have agencies of their own. In the poem The Red Gum by Australian poet-philosopher Martin Harrison, we read the changing pattern of a poet’s perception, where the object remains the same but the envisioning becomes the otherwise: a recognition of the event of the tree where the subject-of-a-life is projected into a realm of pure thought, beyond the merely visible. In this poem the red gum is neither silent nor passive: its agency has brought-forth a poem.

The Ontological Distinction Between Art and Propaganda: how ‘saving the earth’ is destroying it
Presented by Silvan Rus (in-person)

This paper will argue that any act of artistic creation made in the mode of political activism necessarily distorts a work into a piece of propaganda. To show this, we shall outline 3 modes of being that describes how things come to be as pioneered by the philosopher Martin Heidegger. These modes are ‘readiness-to-hand’, ‘challenging forth’, and ‘setting forth’. We shall first show how artistic creation as a setting forth is ontologically incompatible with readiness-to-hand, the mode of making equipment. Thus, a distinction between making and creating must be made. We shall then show how artworks created with an activist’s disposition undergoes an ontological distortion that in fact makes the product not a work of art at all. It becomes, rather, a tool made for the sake of propagating a message or eliciting an emotion; equipment made in the mode of readiness-to-hand. Moreover, we shall show that the mistake of equating making with creating is a consequence of forgetting the ‘ecstatic unity’ of time and succumbing to the trends of the inauthentic ‘they’. Ultimately, the paper shall contend that creation is already intrinsically an act of environmental sustainability which works as a countermovement to the dominant technological mode of challenging forth the earth. But that if communities wish to sustain the earth, they must turn away from the trends of their age and instead set up the worlds of their past by mode of setting forth the earth as an antidote to the very forgetting that exhausts it.

Worldbuilding: the poetics of fertile resistance against an existential threat
Presented by Ivan Levant (in-person)

While the overall the political response to climate change has been considered a failure, some areas of world politics have improved. We can learn from these successes, even if they come from the unlikeliest of the places, such as the war on drugs. Following 15 years of fieldwork and analysis Jarrett Zigon’s, conclusion is that the complex phenomenon of the war on drugs has been successfully resisted through what he calls an act of worldbuilding. What does worldbuilding theory and practice have to contribute to the super wicked problem of climate change?

The act of worldbuilding is a poetic endeavour, an endeavour that requires us to transform our onto-ethical grounds, that is, a radical transformation in how we understand reality. Ethnographic evidence suggests that poetry is a non-ordinary language that allows us to enter non-ordinary states and evoke personal transformation. To make our way out of the wicked problem of the Anthropocene we need to uproot old capitalist-colonial-patriarchal values. These ontologies define what is like to be human, so we need to open new thought horizons, to allow us to take on new values.

A way to take on new perspectives, and potentially new values is to draw on poetic language. Part of this paper will be delivered as a poem. Importantly, the use of poetry in the academic sphere contributes to what is considered to be the decolonisation of knowledge, opening the space for other ways of knowing and being in the world.

Papers 3: Affect in the Anthropocene 1


Chair Dr Jennifer Clement

Room 642, Michie Building (also available online)

How do we write hope into the realist narratives of the Anthropocene?
Presented by Mary Anne Butler (online)

In his paper I explore writerly responsibility in a time of climate change, considering the links between climate porn (Atkin 2017; Bailey 2020; Retallack 2006) and climate grief; links which can lead to overwhelming anxiety, depression and feelings of grief which in turn can culminate in stasis, making it more difficult to act positively.

I investigate the role of cli-fi narratives, typically dystopian, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic and speculative “fable(s) calculated to produce maximum horror” (Trexler 2015, p. 48), arguing that these are not so much cautionary tales as redundant ones: stories in which the damage is already done, or else unstoppable; removing the reader from the scientific reality of ecological breakdown (Taylor & Murray 2020) and thus abdicating them from their own responsibilities.

I consider the responsibility of writers to offer up climate change hope by imagining “sustainable futures while recognising the disparities of climate change” (McBride 2019), exploring the unique capacity of eco-fiction in which the narrative itself depends on “natural places and the human connection therein” (Woodbury 2018) to help us connect present action with future consequence (Macfarlane 2005), arguing that the world is more navigable if we can recognize patterns of cause and effect (Tallis 2020), and proposing that these patterns are more recognisable when situated within familiar, rather than alien landscapes.

I then problematise how to write active hope into a work of eco-fiction through my own attempts to write an ecological allegory: Epoch of the Heart; a realist novel in which the landscape itself becomes character.

Talking about eco-anxiety: A researcher’s perspective on affect-based narratives and inspiring agency
Dr Ans Vercammen (in-person)

Eco-anxiety is described by the American Psychological Association as “the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one's future and that of next generations”. It is now largely agreed by researchers and mental health practitioners that eco-anxiety, and related emotions like solastalgia (a feeling of existential distress caused by environmental change) and ecological grief (resulting from disconnection and relational loss of the natural world), represent an adaptive response to a real threat. Emotional responses like anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, fear, and grief are “normal” responses to any form of loss. They are part of a process of acceptance and the basis for developing resilience. However, these feelings can be exacerbated by constant exposure to doom-and-gloom stories in the media, and this, in turn, may lead to less adaptive responses and functional impairments, where the anxiety and grief starts to interfere with a person’s social, professional and personal responsibilities.

One suggested pathway to psychological resilience is through inspiring agency, i.e. the belief in one’s ability and capacity to change one’s environment for the better. Agency can develop from engaging and connecting with others through activism, or from taking small individual actions. Taking cues from the health promotion literature, negative imagery and threatening messaging is unlikely to inspire positive pro-environmental action, or support agency. Indeed, fear-based messaging is likely to exacerbate existing eco-anxiety and may lead to defeatism. As a researcher in this space, I see a need for the development and testing of narrative structures and messaging strategies that could support both greater individual wellbeing and inspire action-taking. In my talk, I will draw upon empirical research and personal experience to explore the transition from information-based interventions to affect- and empathy-focused approaches in overcoming eco-anxiety.

‘Growing down’ with climate tragedies: an objective, scientifically proven purpose for reading sad books in the apocalypse
Presented by Pierce Wilcox (in-person)

Despite how recently we’ve all discovered we’re terrified, there is already an emerging wisdom around dealing with the climate emergency’s psychological weight: if you feel down, take up activism. Climate psychotherapist Caroline Hickman provides a useful leavening of sense, noting that there is an essential transitional stage between ‘feeling bad’ and ‘doing something’ that is under-remarked and under-studied. She argues that as well as ‘growing up’ and taking up activism, we also need to ‘grow down’ by, as climate researcher Britt Wray puts it, “building our tolerance for guilt, shame, anxiety and depression” (Wray).

In this paper, I’d like to argue that dystopian and tragic climate fiction serves a distinct function in a time of impending ecological crisis: a place to practice these ‘negative’ emotions to aid in this transitional phase and prepare for further confrontation with the catastrophe. Eco-anxiety scholar Panu Pihkala’s recently published paper ‘Toward a Taxonomy of Climate Emotions’ provides a useful frame to consider the emotional range explored by various novels.

My own upcoming MPhil research looks at ekphrasis and the integration of alternate textual forms into the prose novel, and how this works to advance the modernist philosophical project by challenging the traditional binary between reality and fiction. While my primary research looks at scripts and songs within the prose novel, this paper will take a perpendicular approach, considering the deployment of published research and scientific papers within a fictional narrative, and how this blending of forms might accentuate the emotional affect mentioned above. W.J.T. Mitchell’s concept of “ekphrastic hope” (153), that text might help us see, is here extended to the hyperobject of climate change: perhaps text can help us see what our eyes cannot.


Papers 4: Anthropocenic Time(s)


Chair Dr Chris Hay

The Writers Studio, Level 6 Michie Building (also available online)

Funny Scary Monsters  
Presented by Dr Belinda Castles (online)

Writers of realist novels face a problem: how to account for the scale of environmental change in a form bound to ‘the rhetoric of the everyday’ (Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement). Speculative fiction’s willingness to invent seems more apt for imagining catastrophe and its aftermath, and yet the task of contemporary realism might usefully be to consider the ‘structures of feeling’ of this moment of great anxiety. Lauren Berlant’s ‘cruel optimism’ describes the contemporary experience of a kind of stuck-ness, or ‘impasse’. Our attachment to visions of the ‘good life’, in this context perpetual growth and personal comfort, become the obstacle to an actual good life, lived in a sustainable and healthy world. 

Michelle de Kretser’s recent novel, or pair of novellas, Scary Monsters, is illuminating in this context. In its pairing of stories of the 1980s and the near future, it employs a method seen elsewhere in speculative visions, in which breaks in time allow us to imagine the scale of what is happening via familiar methods of close-up rendering made strange by visions of the future, and by the temporal lurch of what we imagine has happened between episodes. The inclusion of a realist section provides a baseline for the speculations to come. A distinctive feature in Scary Monsters is that the sharp visions of past and future are threaded through with an enlivening humour. Laughter in dark times, Charlotte Wood writes, is ‘a somatic expression of disbelief’, rooted in the desire for a better world than this one. In this paper, I will explore de Kretser’s use of humour as ‘a move’ if not out of the impasse, then as a form of resistance to it, an expression of Berlant’s phrase: ‘We refuse to be worn out.’  

Reflections on the role Australian theatre organisations in the age of the Anthropocene
Presented by Dr Tanja Beer, Dr Linda Hassall, Dr Natalie Lazaroo, Professor Julian Meyrick and 
Jacqui Somerville (blended delivery)

Over the past twenty years, playwrights across the world have taken up the climate-change debate in their creative work in a variety of ways, from Caryl Churchill’s We Turned on the Light (2006), to Anne Washburne’s Mr Burns, a post-electric play (2012). Andrew Bovell’s When the Rain Stops Falling (2008) is the Australian stage work dealing with climate change that is perhaps best-known internationally, but playwrights like Stephen Carleton, Linda Hassall, and Kathryn Marquet have addressed the climate crisis by exploring Australia as a climate-affected landscape (Hassall, 2021).  Julie Hudson has argued that as the climate-change debate unfolds in the public domain, it is made for the stage (Hudson 2012). This paper considers the wider ecological relationship between dramas that reflect on these “wicked problems” and the theatre venues in which they are (potentially) staged. How are the theatres themselves rethinking and ‘greening’ their practices in the age of the Anthropocene? In what ways can we envision a more climate resilient future for our theatre ‘ecology’? Is there the potential for Australian theatre organisations to take the lead in the climate crisis debate through their own policies, programming, and practice?

Re-Framing Humanist Tragedy in The Tiniest Thing
Presented by Dr Richard Jordan (in-person)

Tragedy is defined by Aristotle as a self-fulfilling prophecy, inciting fear and pity in an audience through a hero’s error of judgement, or hamartia. Anthropocentric climate change may likewise be viewed in similar terms, born out of the limitations of the myopic humanist paradigm. Yet in an age of climate catastrophe, how might theatre represent this reality without reinforcing the same logic of privileging human suffering? My new play, The Tiniest Thing, is a middle-class Australian family drama that is rudely interrupted by the natural world. As a forest emerges from a pantry, long grass appears beneath the living room carpet, and dead birds begin to fall from the sky, the human characters refuse to see what is right in front of their eyes – until one character, Susan, begins to let the outside world in. Ultimately concerned with the politics of perception, The Tiniest Thing asks: is it possible for humans to perceive an objective reality, or do we always choose what we want to believe? And how might rigid ideologies become our own hamartia in the face of climate catastrophe? I view these questions within the context of bringing an eco-critical dramaturgy to my playwriting, primarily through my use of structure, contrasting deep “planetary” time with the “human” time of the unfolding plot, inspired by the Arctic Cycle plays of Chantal Bilodeau. By seeking to show two different realities at once, I hope to evoke a world on stage in which the same phenomena are perceived by the human characters in vastly different ways, re-framing their suffering within a wider ecological context.

“Sleep Doesn’t Come Easy”: Cli-fi Capitulation and the Failure of Neoliberal Noir in Lisa Joy’s Reminiscence
Presented by Owen Morawitz (in-person)

Reminiscence, the sci-fi feature debut from writer and director Lisa Joy, was one of the worst performing films of 2021 and an astounding box-office bomb. The film follows Nicolas Bannister (Hugh Jackman), a lonesome veteran living in a sunken, near-future Miami flooded by a rising ocean, who uses his military training to offer clients the chance to relive any memory they desire. After he encounters a mysterious woman (Rebecca Ferguson) and begins a passionate love affair, Bannister is soon caught in a web of violent crime and past trauma that threatens to unravel his already tenuous grip on reality. And yet, even with a compelling (and achingly realistic) cli-fi disaster setting as backdrop, the film was scathingly dismissed by critics and failed to find an audience, struggling to elevate itself beyond hard-boiled neo-noir tropes. As Variety’s Owen Gleiberman put it in his review: “Reminiscence plays like a perfectly calibrated two-hour mirage of things we’ve seen before.” With this pronounced disappointment in mind, one might ask: What is it about Reminiscence that failed to resonate with modern audiences? While the film’s critics stressed the presence of unnecessary exposition, clunky dialogue, and 2D characterisation, this paper suggests that the film’s more pressing issues are ideological in nature.

This paper will explore how Joy as writer and director muddles themes of memory and trauma through the film’s implicit political dimension: namely, a neoliberal hyperindividualism that manifests as a nostalgic impulse for the past and the capitulation of future generations to the inevitability of global climate catastrophe. In Anthropocene Fictions: The Novel in a Time of Climate Change (2015), Adam Trexler argues that the primary function of cli-fi is to create “a connection between the reader and characters immersed in disastrous global warming, [through which] readers could immediately experience climate change as a threat to their centers of felt value.” Climate change narratives represent “the historical tension between the existence of catastrophic global warming and [our] failed obligation to act,” providing humankind with “a medium to explain, predict, implore and lament.” While the imaginative capacity of science fiction and speculative fiction more broadly is best suited to accurately representing the current challenges posed by our problems of scale, such as late-stage capitalism and Anthropogenic climate change, the genre also provides access to the myriad potentialities of humanity’s past, present and future. With its mix of science fiction themes and aesthetic neo-noir trappings, I argue that Reminiscence actively rejects futurity by cultivating a sense of spatio-temporal dislocation, an awareness of a de-historicized timeless future-past that is also hauntingly present. Joy’s film fails to engage (intentionally or otherwise) with the various social, political, and cultural factors unique to the Anthropocene, where a radical transformation is necessary to resist and successfully combat what Morton describes as the ‘hyperobject’ of Anthropogenic climate change—an entity “of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that [it defeats] traditional ideas about what a thing is in the first place.” With an explicit emphasis on the phenomenological experience of memory and trauma, the film is ultimately more concerned with subjective gratification at the expense of objective, communal material reality, in turn reducing and foreclosing any radical potential or insight that could be gained from the film’s near-future cli-fi setting. In this view, borrowing from both Derrida and Fisher, Reminiscence is a profoundly hauntological text, one where the film’s characters are continually mired by statis and ideological inertia, doomed by a traumatic compulsion to repeat, and gripped by a fatalistic resignation to the very real and present threat of the Anthropocene.

Papers 5: Writing the Anthropocene


Chair A/Prof Venero Armanno

Room 642, Michie Building (also available online)

"A community armed with quarterstaffs and machetes is probably as good as it gets": Preppers, climate activists and subcultures of imminent collapse in New Zealand. 
Presented by Dr Tom Doig (in-person)

The realities of climate breakdown are becoming more obvious and unavoidable. At the same time, the ultimate long-term (or is that medium-term?) consequences of destabilised weather and environmental collapse remain extraordinary difficult to envision. The end-game of the Anthropocene is incalculably complex – and, in an important sense, literally unimaginable. But not for everyone.

We Are All Preppers Now is a creative non-fiction work-in-progress, based on interviews with preppers, survivalists and climate activists; what I’m broadly terming ‘subcultures of imminent collapse’. As part of this project, I have visited and stayed on numerous prepper homesteads in remote regions of Aotearoa (New Zealand). I have witnessed first-hand how individuals and families are preparing for – and conceptualising – potential societal and ecological collapse within their lifetimes.

With reference to Mark O’Connell’s Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back (2020) and Bradley Garrett’s Bunker: Building for the End Times (2020), my presentation will consider how creative non-fiction authors are using prepper culture as a lens through which to refract, and contain, prevalent cultural anxieties about apocalyptic futures. I will include a short reading from my draft manuscript.

Tricky Writing: Using the Trickster as a Model for Writing Innovative Anthropogenic Fiction
Presented by Tara East (in-person)

This presentation focusses on a Creative Writing research investigation that examined creative practice and how it led to a written product, a novel, as well as an exegesis that critically reflects upon that practice. The research investigation combines multiple areas of study, including practice-led research, the trickster archetype and eco-fiction/criticism, to create a wholly original approach to creative writing where the figurative adoption of trickster qualities can lead to creative and innovative forms of anthropogenic storytelling.

This project therefore involves creating a unique methodology dubbed the ‘trickster methodology.’ This methodology combines elements of practice-led research with trickster qualities (slippery, subversive, disruptive, unstable, creator, destroyer, ambiguous) by identifying four qualities that are particularly relevant to creative writers: shapeshifting, playfulness, chance, and order. The trickster methodology provides writers with a way to take advantage of the trickster’s greatest strengths, using adaptation, change, or the replacement of a system to initiate movement towards a new reality. At a time of major ecological uncertainty, the trickster writer can reopen these systems to their own internal power so that innovative, imaginative, and creative alternatives can be presented.

Part of this research investigation draws upon a series of interviews conducted with Australian authors of anthropogenic fiction to articulate how these qualities surfaced within the writers creative practice organically, and how a creative practitioner could intentionally engage with these qualities as a way to challenge themselves to do or make differently while also exploring new ways of representing and experiencing ecological issues within fiction.

Communicating Environmental Crises: Climate Change in Literature
Presented by Professor Kelly Fielding, Dr Kirsty-Lee Workman (in-person)

There is an emerging focus on understanding the potentially significant communicative function of books which consider environmental issues as a central theme in order to communicate complex environmental information to an ever-expanding audience of reader. Drawing from both an ecocritical and social science framework, this paper investigates the important question of how climate change is represented in a contemporary fictional narrative, Barbara Kingsolver’s popular 2013 novel Flight Behavior, to investigate the role of environmental literature in potentially raising awareness of climate change and eliciting environmental attitude and behaviour change. A case study approach was taken that centred on a group of readers who read Kingsolver’s novel as part of their regular book group experience. The participants were asked to keep a journal to note their immediate reading experiences and this was followed by an open group discussion at their regular book group meeting. Participants were subsequently interviewed individually. The paper will discuss the results of the thematic analysis of the group discussion and individual interviews. The study makes a contribution to the field by expanding the scope of traditional ecocriticism to include an empirical investigation into the reception and the reported effects of reading a novel specifically focussed on communicating the complexities of climate change. It thereby contributes to the nascent body of research that is working to unpack the critical dialogic and didactic potential of fictional climate change narratives.

Alisdair McDowall’s Pomona and absurdist critique of late capitalism
Presented by Oliver Gough (in-person)

The Anthropocene presents a monstrous, looming problem for which the solution may lie outside of the rational, competition based thinking of neoliberalism and late capitalism. Timothy Morton argues for ending the paradox, the “wicked loop” of attempting to end the problem with the reasoning that created it, by embracing of the absurdity of the Anthropocene. They write that “Capitalist economics is …an anthropocentric practice that has no easy way to factor in the very things that ecological thought and politics require: nonhuman beings and unfamiliar timescales” (Morton 34-35). I argue that Alistair McDowall’s 2014 play, Pomona utilises the disconcerting presence of the kind of nonhuman beings and unfamiliar time scales Morton describes, to destabilise and criticise late capitalism in the contemporary city. McDowall’s is an appropriately non-realist critique, one which demonstrates the enormity of the problem of global warming by portraying the absurdity of the economic system at its heart. Morton’s wicked loop provides entry to use Pomona and absurdism to interrogate the Anthropocene. If the Anthropocene can be conceived of as absurd, then so too can the system it fails to be solved in. Drawing this connection, which is present in formally challenging plays like Pomona, can bring writing for the Anthropocene away from the outdated logic of late capitalism and closer to truly ecological thinking.


Professor Adeline Johns-Putra


The Writers Studio, Level 6 Michie Building (also available online)

Authors, Readers, and Ethics in the Anthropocene

This talk speculates on the author-reader dynamic in the Anthropocene. Specifically, it considers the ethical import of writing and reading Anthropocene fiction. I focus on realist narrative, using a definition of realism that exceeds the idea that the realist text merely invokes the ‘real’ world; instead, following Fredric Jameson, I view it as both a writerly and a readerly attempt to experience historical verisimilitude and philosophical truth at the same time. In this way (and in common with ecocritical conceptualisations of storyworlds and affect), I understand realism as having significant ethical potential in the Anthropocene: its imaginative appeal possesses moral traction, built through readerly engagement with actions and consequences and through empathy with these, and thus with questions (not necessarily resolved, of course) of desert, fairness, and justice. But realism in the Anthropocene also requires new comprehensions of scale (a repositioning of ourselves temporally and spatially) and epistemology (a new understanding of phenomena that are only scientifically knowable as well as a new cognition of human-nonhuman interdependencies). We need to read and think our way out of our comfort zones, diachronically (or evolutionarily) and synchronically (ecologically) at once.

In other words, there are moral and political stakes to reading and writing in the Anthropocene. To understand these, I suggest that ecocriticism (and literary criticism at large) must revisit and reclaim the author-reader relationship. I hope to offer something beyond a resurrection of dead authors and a rehashing of reader-responses, to sketch some new models for comprehending the ethics that are enacted every day by contemporary authors and readers of fiction in and of the Anthropocene.    


Adeline Johns-Putra is Professor of Literature at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University. She was President of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (UK and Ireland) from 2011 to 2015. Her publications in the field of environmental literature include her monograph, Climate Change and the Contemporary Novel (2019), and the edited volumes, The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Climate (with Kelly Sultzbach, 2022), Climate and Literature (2019), Cli-fi: A Companion (with Axel Goodbody, 2018), and Literature and Sustainability: Concept, Text, and Culture (with John Parham and Louise Squire, 2017). She is currently writing The Cambridge Introduction to Literature and Climate.