Dear Governor Ducey,
I have a new book called The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet. I wrote it with my friend, David Carlin, who lives in Melbourne. We each wrote a short essay about each letter of the alphabet, sequentially. For “A,” I wrote Albatross, he wrote Atmosphere. We sent those to each other then moved on to letter “B.” This book isn’t a regular climate crisis book. We don’t go back over the science of how we must hold the line at an average 1.5 degrees Celsius increase before catastrophe rains down upon us. We make fun of ourselves for caring so much about ice and snow yet we spend plenty of carbon flying around the world, looking for people with whom to talk about how much we love ice, sometimes doing so while standing on a beautiful beach that erodes as we speak. It’s a love song for the best planet—best because it’s the only one we’ve got. We still find it beautiful, even when it’s chock-full of plastic that people put in a bin believing that plastic would be recycled—cycling in a patch of garbage the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific is a kind of recycling, I guess.
I’m writing to invite you, Ducey, up to Flagstaff, sometime in the next couple of weeks so we can continue to talk about books. Not my book. But other people’s books. The Northern Arizona Book Festival begins this weekend and we have people and we have books and all these incredible people from across the state—Jake Skeets and Sherwin Bitsui, both poets and members of the Diné Nation, Bojan Louis from U of A, MFA students from U of A, ASU and NAU, and writers and editors from Flag Live! In conjunction with NAU, Craig Childs will read at the fest. So many great readers will be in town that I can’t list them all here but you can find at the NAZ Book Fest website.
This is the 24th year of the Northern Arizona Book Festival. From those early years with Toni Morrison and Dorothy Allison and Robert Bly to these latter years with Pam Houston, Orlando White, Diana Gabaldon and Laura Tohe, 24 years of anything is a long time. You have time to build thick history and long-term connections and support. I wrote in my other book, Sustainability: A Love Story, that humans love to keep on keeping on. The fact that this currently all volunteer board keeps this going is a testament of the people of northern Arizona loving books and loving readings and workshops and talking about the grand possibility of books.
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This book festival doesn’t only survive. It thrives. The Diné Emerging Writers reading brings young indigenous writers to the stage. We thank them for their willingness to come from sometimes far away to a place that isn’t always welcoming. We thank local Arizona presses, Egg Tooth Editions, Rinky Dink Press and Tolsun Books, for putting so much energy into putting books into the world. I could stand in the middle of Heritage Square this week and just absorb the passion and art and creativity and insight that will be electrifying the atmosphere on Sept. 13, 14 and 15.
I keep thinking about atmosphere though. I’m listening, in the background, while I write this to a scientist who says, climate science talks always try to give a little hope. I have to say, there’s not much hope. She says that one in nine humans will lose their homes to climate change. People will migrate. This will bring an exacerbation of cruel and violent immigration policies. Forests will turn to deserts. Unless. Unless.
The festival kicks off on Friday. We will have readers from around the state, even around the country. They won’t all read about climate change. They will read about other kinds of hopes and devastations. And then, one week after the book festival is the Climate Strike. This is where students, teachers, parents, workers, professors, governors and other elected officials come together to say, this is our last chance. It’s going to take a huge shift in thinking. We need political will. We need a paradigm shift. Twenty-four years is a long time for a book festival. We don’t have that long to stop what’s going to come but, as you will see when you come visit, we have the energy and the wisdom and the community to pull it off. In books and in Flagstaff, there is the possibility.