ASLE’s Scholar of the Month for April 2021 is Addie Hopes.
Addie Hopes (she/her) is a PhD candidate in the English department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s an editorial assistant with Contemporary Literature and Managing Editor of Edge Effects.
How did you become interested in studying ecocriticism and/or the environmental humanities?
I grew up in rural Ohio playing in the woods with my cousins, hanging out in the barn with the feral cats and horses, and climbing trees to read books where only the bugs would bother me. By the time I was teenager, that arcadia split wide open: a Superfund site at a local beach, all the water that wasn’t safe to swim in, all the ways that people worked and loved and survived—or didn’t—within geographies of rural poverty, addiction, precarious employment. I studied fiction writing as an undergraduate, then completed an MFA at Brooklyn College, and more-than-humans coursed through every story that I put on the page. Worldbuilding was very much about characters’ deep and fraught relationships to places, waters, and nonhuman animals. After that, I taught for many years as an adjunct, and I increasingly found that students really wanted to engage with texts that centered issues that affected their everyday lives—fracking, food systems, water and air pollution, weird weather, industrial agriculture. This inspired me to think in new ways about my own writing and my research—what, if anything, I could add to these discussions.
I learned about ecocriticism when I began looking at PhD programs. The first ecocritical text I read was an essay by Greta Gaard, followed closely by Nicole Seymour’s Strange Natures—it’s no wonder I was hooked right away! I was lucky enough to be accepted into a PhD program where suddenly I had time to immerse myself in reading and research. Then I joined the editorial board of Edge Effects magazine, where I’ve had endless opportunities to learn about the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work being done within the environmental humanities. It’s been such an exciting ride.
Who is your favorite environmental artist, writer, or filmmaker? Or what is your favorite environmental text? Why?
An impossible question! My way to answer this at the moment is to name some of the texts that I’ve turned to during COVID quarantine—often when I should be doing something else. I really admire Cherríe Moraga’s play Heroes and Saints, a speculative response to United Farm Workers’ protests against pesticide poisoning; the play’s queer Chicana feminist take on harm and vulnerability—from agribusiness models, racism, labor exploitation, and heteropatriarchy—also insists on the vitality of resistance and community. I also find myself re-reading novels by Larissa Lai, Octavia Butler, Cherie Dimaline, and Nalo Hopkinson for similar reasons: for ways of keeping the faith with one another, for building worlds that refuse to internalize a relentless state of emergency. The poems of Bhanu Kapil have also been constant companions; like me, Kapil is interested in what somatics practice, innovative poetry, and environmental imagination might have to say to one another, and I leave her books feeling exhausted and exhilarated. I’ve also been spending time with CAConrad’s A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)tics, sometimes trying out the weirdly liberating body-based exercises in the volume myself (to varying levels of success) and sometimes basking in the poems that Conrad himself created from them.
What are you currently working on?
My dissertation! I’m still in the early stages of a dissertation project that aims to bring together two fascinating threads within contemporary North American ecopoetry: a) formal experiments with documentary methods and b) somatics, a therapeutic approach to healing the damage done by the pervasive separation of mind from body and human from more-than-human. I’m interested in how the radical manipulations of official documents and corporate records might also perform poetic bodywork— uncoupling embodied practices of feeling, knowing, and desiring from habitual attachments to the infrastructures of everyday life in the 21st century. How can docupoetry register ways to make sense of—to disrupt, even to heal from— the toxic legacies of landfills, the destructive pleasures of settler colonial extractivism, climate denialism, and anti-Blackness? How might innovative environmental docupoetry open new possibilities for living well with others in altered worlds? I’ll let you know.
I’m also spending time with a few non-dissertation related writing projects. One is on C.D. Wright’s One Big Self: An Investigation, a volume of documentary poetry that considers the unjust tangles of extractive racial capitalism and the carceral logics that structure U.S. society. The first iteration of the One Big Self project includes tintype photographs by Deborah Luster, the photographer who accompanied Wright on a series of visits to three Louisiana prisons. It’s a complicated, ambivalent, and heart-shattering book that I’d recommend to everyone. Another essay that I’ve been tinkering with takes a queer feminist look at how mermaids/sea-folx in post-45 U.S. fiction offer ways to imagine messy and non-innocent futures outside (underneath?) the parameters of environmental crisis.
What is something you are reading right now (environmental humanities-related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally? Comment briefly on why or how it inspires you.
On my bedside table right now is adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy, which offers new gifts and new insights into justice-oriented somatics every time I open it. I read the introduction of Max Liboiron’s Pollution is Colonialism last week, then immediately read it again—this time, setting aside the habits of “extractive reading” (a term from Eve Tuck that I learned from Liboiron’s introduction) that graduate school tends to foster. I am so eager to meet this entire book in person. Liboiron’s beautiful footnotes—a model of collegiality— also led me to la paperson’s A Third University is Possible and the “scyborgs” whose decolonial desires, dreams, and actions wrench the colonial university’s machinery. “Another world is dreaming your dreams” is the book’s final line: it’s powerful and inspiring stuff that encourages accountability and possibility in the very best ways.
I’m also currently editing some pieces for becoming-Feral: a bestarium (a creative research project and collection spearheaded by Josh Armstrong, Alexandra Lakind, Chessa Adsit-Morris, and Rebekka Sæter), and I’ve been looking for inspiration around the concept of “ferality.” This means that I’m spending inordinate amounts of time in the amazing The Feral Atlas digital project curated by Anna L. Tsing, Jennifer Deger, Alder Keleman Saxena, and Feifei Zhou. I’ve also recently dug into Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s Becoming Human (2020) and Jack Halberstam’s Where the Wild Things Are (2020), which are both—in very different ways—challenging reads with expansive senses of archive that make me want to be a braver thinker.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you? Why?
There are so many scholars in the field who inspire me! Thanks for asking this great question. Through Edge Effects, I’ve had the privilege to meet—via email, mostly—so many stellar scholars who are extraordinarily generous in their approaches to collaboration with their co-authors and in communication with graduate student editors. Nicole Seymour and Salma Monani come immediately to mind as stand-out examples and models for me as I continue to shape the kind of scholar and colleague I want to become.
I’m a big fan of Julietta Singh, who balances breathtaking sentences and provocative insights in books like No Archive will Restore You and Unthinking Mastery; criticism you can luxuriate in is such a treat. I’m also inspired by scholar-poet-artist-activists like Petra Kuppers and Alexis Pauline Gumbs, who chart courses in, around, and outside academia with grace and brilliance. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Lynn Keller, from whom I learn so much every day. I so admire her willlingness to encourage intellectual experimentation and her methods of listening to and living with the books that grab her attention. Lynn’s mentorship has buoyed me through graduate school thus far with unflagging support and just the right amount of prodding—a magical mix.