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Margaret Atwood Coming to ASU to Discuss Importance of Creativity in Advancing Sustainability

Internationally renowned novelist and environmental activist Margaret Atwood will visit Arizona State University this November to discuss the relationship between art and science and the importance of creative writing and imagination for addressing social and environmental challenges.

Internationally renowned novelist and environmental activist Margaret Atwood will visit Arizona State University this November to discuss the relationship between art and science and the importance of creative writing and imagination for addressing social and environmental challenges.

Atwood’s visit will mark the launch of the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative (ICF), a new collaborative venture at ASU among the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, the Center for Science and the Imagination, and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Atwood, author of over a dozen acclaimed novels — including the recent MaddAddam trilogy, which has become central to the emerging literary genre of climate fiction, or “CliFi” — will offer the inaugural lecture for the initiative on Nov. 5.

"We are proud to welcome Margaret Atwood, one of the world's most celebrated living writers, to ASU and engage her in these discussions around climate, science and creative writing,” said Jewell Parker Rhodes, founding artistic director for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and the Piper Endowed Chair at ASU. “A poet, novelist, literary critic and essayist, Ms. Atwood epitomizes the creative and professional excellence our students aspire to achieve."

Focusing in particular on CliFi, ICF will explore how imaginative skills can be harnessed to create solutions to climate challenges and question whether and how creative writing can affect political decisions and behavior by influencing our social, political and scientific imagination.

“ASU is a leader in exploring how creativity and the imagination drive the arts, sciences, engineering and humanities," said Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination. "The Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative will use the thriving CliFi genre to ask the hard questions about our cultural relationship to climate change and offer compelling visions for sustainable futures."

The multidisciplinary Initiative will bring together researchers, artists, writers, decision makers and the public to engage in research projects, teaching activities and events at ASU and beyond. The three ASU programs behind ICF have a track record for academic and public engagement around innovative programs, including the Sustainability Solutions Festival; Emerge; and the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference.

“Imagining how the future could unfold in a climatically changing world is key to making good policy and governance decisions today,” said Manjana Milkoreit, a postdoctoral fellow with the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. “We need to know more about the nature of imagination, its relationship to scientific knowledge, and the effect of cultural phenomena such as CliFi on our imaginative capabilities and ultimately our collective ability to create a safe and prosperous future.”

For its part, ASU is partnering to apply creative approaches of its own to advancing sustainability, both locally and abroad: Its “Reimagine Phoenix” initiative is aimed at engaging residents of the greater Phoenix area on waste diversion; and the University is also working with the Dutch municipality of Haarlemmermeer to develop the world’s first regional plan based on the principles of a circular economy.

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