Allegra Hyde believes fiction can change the world

Allegra Hyde’s debut novel Eleutheria is about a young woman who believes there is still hope in saving our world and joins a group of activists on an island in the Bahamas. Written in exquisite prose, this Hyde’s novel is the newest addition to the climate fiction canon that is helping to shape how we see the world.

Hyde previously won the John Simmons Short Fiction Award for her story collection Of This New World. She currently teaches at Oberlin College.

We spoke on the phone about climate fiction, books that inspire her, and why she’ll always continue to write issue-driving stories.

What is this book about from your perspective? Not the publicity copy, not what the media thinks it’s about. What does Allegra Hyde say her book is about?

It’s a book about hope. How hope might go awry at times and get distorted or misused, but at the end of the day, hope is all we have in the face of a crisis like climate change. If hope is enacted upon at the right time for the right reasons can be a guiding light. It can help us navigate incredibly complex challenges. Both as individuals and as a community and society.

Did you always think your first novel would be a climate novel?

I knew I wanted to write about the climate crisis. I wanted to engage with it. I’m of the belief that every person has some sphere of influence when it comes to the climate crisis and the movement for a sustainable future. We all have different roles and we all have different skills. As someone who is a writer, I felt the way I could contribute is by writing about this issue. I wanted to find a way to engage with an incredibly depressing topic in a way that is useful to the larger story that we as a culture tell ourselves about climate change. That was the challenge I set for myself when writing this novel. I wanted to write about climate change in the most useful way that I could.

How does the novel go from you wanting to write about climate change to the actual novel that we got? How did that unfold?

The subchallenge within the challenge I set for myself was writing about climate change in a way that went beyond portraying catastrophe. There is a body of climate fiction that is brilliant and important but it focuses on terrible outcomes. It’s useful in visualizing what these worst-case scenarios can look like. I felt there was room for narratives that portray problem-solving in the face of these challenges is. There was also room for portraying solutions for addressing climate change.

I was going to bring up Matt Bell because of his book Appleseed and as we’re on the phone now see he is the cover blurb for the book. What other books helped shape your book?

I worked with Matt when I was at Arizona State University and I think we’re equally influenced by The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh. It’s non-fiction, but it’s talking about how fiction could better engage with the climate crisis. I think both of us wrote books as a result of Ghosh’s text that engage with history and that want to bring the past into our considerations of the present and future. I’m interested in how the long forces at play like colonialism and white supremacy have played out and how they need to be reckoned with in order for the future to be a better place.

As far as other novels go, I was really a huge fan of Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman, especially the depiction of the future that is imagining how the world will go on without us. The Children’s Bible by Lydia Millett, I found to have a very fascinating way of connecting the future with the past. 

There was also a lot of nonfiction that informed this novel. The End of Protest by Micah White is a book I am constantly recommending because it talks about how we can rethink activism and protest to address the problems of today. This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein is another iconic book. Those are definitely in the family tree for this novel.

You mentioned at the top of the conversation this book was about hope. What do you hope readers take away after they read your book?

I hope readers take away a sense of agency. I think a lot of folks when faced with the facts of climate change can get paralyzed. It can be paralyzing and easy to feel like there is nothing you can do and there is no hope and all is lost. I aspire for readers to read this book and have some sense of possibility. We know what we have to do and what we can do. I don’t want readers to leave with thinking there is no path forward. I hope they leave knowing how the legacy of oppression has informed climate change and that we have to reckon with that past in order to move forward.

You’ve written a lot of short fiction prior to this book. Where do you see your writing going in the next few years?

I do have a second book of short stories that is in the pipeline. It’s called The Last Catastrophe. If all goes well, it’ll be coming out next year. The stories are all speculative in the way that they are taking contemporary challenges, issues, and questions and seeking to exaggerate them and reframe them in a way that is fun and maybe funny, but also hopefully sheds new light and understanding on the subject in question. 

I’m continually interested in how fiction can be a space for talking about issues.

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