Protesters hold signs about the environment

Climate Narratives Prize announces inaugural awardees

By

Sandra Leander

Given the state of the planet, is it OK to have a child? With so much grim climate news, can we allow ourselves to feel optimistic? If we talk with people from around the world, can we gain new insights on how climate change is affecting their lives?

These are some of the questions raised and answered by the winning writers of the first biennial Climate Narratives Prize, to be awarded at Arizona State University on April 22, Earth Day, at an event titled “Hope, Alarm and Climate Change.”

The winners and two special mentions were selected from a collection of nominated works, exemplifying the best published narratives of the last five years that explore the reality and impact of our current climate crisis and the state of our planet and society. 

The three top winners will receive cash prizes of $5,000, $2,000 and $1,000, respectively.

The prize — created and sponsored by ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, and the Narrative Storytelling Initiative — originated as part of a project to rethink how climate change stories are told and explore their potential to drive social and cultural change. The project drew on the expertise of journalists, climate scientists and scholars of the humanities to better conceptualize and communicate through story the world-shattering stakes of inaction on climate change.

The winning narratives were chosen from nominations submitted by such renowned writers, thinkers and activists as Bill McKibben, Katharine Hayhoe, Wendell Berry, Vann R. Newkirk II, Frank Sesno, Kyle P. Whyte and Lacy M. Johnson.

The nominations were then reviewed and voted on by graduate students in a multidisciplinary course at ASU called “Climate Narratives, Apocalypse and Social Change,” developed with the support of a Luce Foundation/ACLS-funded grant and taught by ASU professors Steven Beschloss and Sarah Viren.

“We’ve launched this Climate Narratives Prize to shine a light on climate-related writing that can have an impact on the public’s thinking and choices,” said Beschloss, who is also the founding director of ASU’s Narrative Storytelling Initiative and narratives lead for the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. “It is clear it will take creative thinking and multiple modes of storytelling to expand the public’s awareness and commitment to change.”

“To prepare for selecting honorees, we read widely and thought deeply about what it means to write toward social change, and students used that knowledge to evaluate each nomination,” added Viren, an assistant professor of creative nonfiction. “This process taught all of us to think more creatively about what it means to influence the way people think about an issue.”

The public announcement and celebration of the winners will take place April 22 from 11:45 a.m.–1:15 p.m. Arizona time in ASU’s newest research building, ISTB7, dedicated to planetary and societal health.

Featured speakers include all three winners and several nominators in a conversation moderated by Beschloss and Viren. The event will include reflections on the issues surrounding climate change, the kinds of narratives that can drive impact, and the spectrum of storytelling from alarm and despair to optimism and hope.

Learn more about the Climate Narratives Prize and the project.