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Contemporary Cultures of Writing Seminar Series Autumn 2021 - Climate change and creativity

The scale and speed of the climate crisis inspires differing responses, from denial to despair. How do we respond to an existential threat? It is challenging to find the language and the concepts to encompass its enormity. The facts are there, but the response is piecemeal, and there is no current prospect of the radical change called for by climate scientists. As we approach the UN climate conference COP26 (Glasgow, 1-12 November 2021) these issues need urgent discussion.

The two seminars will consider the place of creative engagement in eco-aware writing, asking why facts alone aren’t enough to incite change around environmental issues and exploring the kinds of narrative techniques or formal strategies that writers might use. Miles (2010) speculates that contemporary art dealing with climate change has a capacity to contribute to a shift in consciousness and is likely to be conducive to a more sustainable way of living. Although science may be viewed as a process of discovery, the arts serve as another mode to acquire and interpret knowledge of the world. Different perspectives can help people realize that we are all engaged in a search for understanding the world around us. Scheffer et al. (2015) suggest that a greater alliance with artists and integration with arts education in terms of ways of ‘learning to learn’ could even help stimulate scientific innovation by valuing associative and (seemingly) divergent thinking.

The seminars will take place via Zoom. Registration will be open on Eventbrite from September.

Seminar one Tuesday 21st September - Book here.

5.30 pm – 6.30 pm

Imagination and the Natural World - writers, writing and perception

How do contemporary writers who think about the environment begin to recognise their own approaches and tropes as symbolically linked to that environment? How might forms of writing begin to create new ways of composing the natural world? Could the imaginative act, played out in fiction, poetry or hybrid works, stoke or hone habits of attention which lead to possible new perceptions? Perhaps it is when least didactic or informative that work which rests on metaphor, symbol or experimental strategies is most likely to capture or convey something real and sustainable? This panel will explore how writing itself is intrinsically an act of political dissent in our present moment.

Speakers: Sarah Butler, Lecturer in Creative Writing, MMU; Zoe Brigley Thompson, Visiting Assistant Professor at Ohio State University; Kristian Evans, poet, nonfiction writer, and environmental activist; Chair: Sally O'Reilly, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, The Open University.


Seminar two Tuesday October 5th 5.30 pm – 7.00 pm - Book here.

Round table discussion

Rajat Chaudhuri, author, activist, NGO adviser; Liese Coulter, Visiting Researcher, Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds; Tanya Hawkes, author and environmentalist; James Miller, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and English Literature at Kingston University; Stephen Peake, Professor of Climate Change and Energy, The Open University; Harriet Tarlo, Professor of Ecopoetry and Poetics, Sheffield Hallam University.

Academics and practising writers engaged with climate change and creativity in different ways will talk about their research and/or creative practice, and take part in a discussion on ways to communicate climate crisis messages to wider audiences using storytelling and narrative.




Contact Us

Contact Derek Neale or Sally O'Reilly or by email:

The Postal Address is:

Department of English and Creative Writing
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

Tel +44-1908-652092