When I was little, we only left London to go abroad. All my stories were about Iraq, not here. It was when I got to Cambridge that I started connecting with the landscape, loving the big skies and endless flatness of the Fens, and getting spooked by living in this archipelago with no sense of where the edges were. So I went to Orkney, and I went to Cornwall, and felt, yes, rooted. Wanting to understand more about why why people feel so strongly about landscape led to my play about wolves being reintroduced to Scotland. Then trees started taking over my play Cling To Me Like Ivy. So really the stories have chosen me, not the other way round. It was bracing to take a rigorous look at stories with academics and activists—Abbie Garrington has already blogged about it, as have Robert Butler and Caleb Klaces.
Dan Box began by talking about the surprising resilience of the Carteret Islanders, who are the world’s first climate change refugees and how we don't hear much about resilience when we talk about climate change.
We talked about how it's hard to write about climate change because we know the ending, because fear isn't the best inspiration and because we don't just want to write doom and gloom stories, or to recruit victims. We worried about imposing our climate change narrative on the people who are living it. And we wondered if there was any point in telling stories about climate change at all.
But, as Charlie Kronick said, the early Greenpeace direct actions (and more recently, the Kingsnorth Six's) were almost Dadaist interventions, a kind of street theatre, a kind of art—and were only completed when their stories were told.
We talked about how people don't change through hectoring, polemic or exhortation but through stories, imagination and hope. And how we’ll need all of those things more and more. And Benjamin Morris quoted from After the Deluge, an open "letter to America" written by poet Andrei Codrescu in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina. It begins,
There will be a little bit of New Orleans everywhere when our refugees move into your communities. Here are some of the changes:The boldness of this opening blows me away—the way he just assumes the refugees will enrich the places they go to. He promises live music, street theatre, people telling stories, festivals, parades, coffee houses, bars, booming businesses, more jobs and, with a dazzling confidence in stories:
Your food will get better.
You will experience an overnight growth in self-esteem as our refugee poets and writers will begin to use your city as a source of material.I had thought I might leave the conference feeling frivolous and pointless, but instead I felt that stories are important. And that a story of people being resilient, coping, hoping, imagining a better future is a story I’d like to tell.