Greenhouse writing feb2018 web

Greenhouse Program students work in teams to craft science fiction stories to submit to the Green Feather Award (presented by Los Angeles Audubon!) and the Tomorrow Prize, both writing competitions organized by the Light Bringer Project and Sci-Fest L.A.

By Stacey Vigallon, Director of Environmental Education

In January 2018, students in the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program kicked off a semester of writing and art activities centered on science fiction. The short-term goal was to produce stories to submit to the Green Feather Award (presented by Los Angeles Audubon!) and the Tomorrow Prize, both writing competitions organized by the Light Bringer Project and Sci-Fest L.A. High school students throughout Los Angeles County were invited to submit work to these competitions, and we were also thrilled that a team of Los Angeles Audubon volunteers served as judges for the Green Feather Award. In addition to cash prizes for winning stories, selected stories will be performed live on stage at LitFest Pasadena in May. Engaging in this story competition gave us a great excuse to collaborate with 826LA, a non-profit writing and tutoring organization, to host a science fiction writing workshop at their Mar Vista center in February.

The longer-term goal for this writing and art project was more complex. Writing and visual arts pushes students to strengthen their communication skills – a benefit to them in any future academic and professional context. But, science fiction in particular provides unique opportunities for its creators to learn about and interpret current science, to envision the future, and to write themselves into an active role in crafting that future. We required that Greenhouse students incorporate the ecology knowledge they’ve gained through the Greenhouse Program into their stories to create a future where one or more major environmental crises have been solved. During the workshop with 826LA, we explored ideas and motivations of well-know authors of science fiction, like Octavia E. Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Douglas Adams, as well as contemporary artists, like Allison Warden and Ana Teresa Fernandez, who are using their media to envision the future. A quotation from Ursula K. Le Guin, given during her acceptance speech for the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2014, served as a guiding principle:

“Hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.”

Greenhouse Program staff viewed this writing/art project as an antidote to solastalgia—essentially, a state of despair about environmental degradation. As the term’s originator, philosopher Glenn Albrecht, says, “Solastalgia is when your endemic sense of place is being violated.” Use of the term has moved beyond just philosophy and academic circles to now also be used in the medical and mental health professions. The interdisciplinary aspects of science fiction, the way it can combine elements of science and history, environmental and social justice issues, and deeply personal dreams and fears, empowers the writer to reframe the future for themselves and for their readers.

Greenhouse Program student writing and artwork will be featured in a publication produced by Los Angeles Audubon this summer.

Want to learn more about the concept of solastalgia? Check out this brief BBC article: