The story behind “cli-fi”

Dan Bloom writes:

In February, I was happy to hear that a New York literary critic was starting a column devoted to cli-fi. “Burning Worlds” would appear monthly in the Chicago Review of Books. In this first column, she interviewed me and stated that she hoped to promote cli-fi in “the hope of generating a larger conversation about climate change and why imagined depictions of the phenomenon are vital to the literary community — and beyond.”

Her six columns so far have featured interviews with Ashley Shelby, Kim Stanley Robinson and Aaron Thier about their latest climate change novels.

I’ve been blogging about cli-fi for several years and here’s some background. The “cli-fi” term came to me several years ago as I was thinking of ways to raise public awareness of novels and movies about climate change issues. I toyed with using such terms as “clima-fic,” “climfic” or “cli-fic” to stand in for “climate fiction,” but I wanted a headline-friendly term. I decided on “cli-fi” because it is familiar (via “sci-fi”) and easy to use.

The term caught on with the media. On April 20, 2013, National Public Radio (NPR) did a five-minute segment, interviewing cli-fi novelists Nathaniel Rich and Barbara Kingsolver. The NPR segment marked the beginning of the new genre’s global outreach and popularity among academics, literary critics, journalists — and headline writers. Just Google “cli-fi” to see how popular the term has become in just four years!

For me, I am looking to literature and movies to help convince people about the ominous implications of overdosing on global carbon emissions — in the same way that Nevil Shute’s 1957 On the Beach helped people imagine the horrors of nuclear war.

I became an environmentalist while studying literature at Tufts University in Boston the late 1960s. In the 1980s, I even tried to find a literary agent for a short novel I had written about a huge flood that submerges New York City. After I sent the pitch in, the agent politely said my novel wasn’t good enough to publish and told me not to quit my day job. I didn’t quit my day job.

Fast forward to 2017. I am now waiting with anticipation for new cli-fi short story collections and novels that are in the pipepline and that might surface in the next few years as cli-fi continues to gain traction.

I’m basically a PR guy. Passionate. Energized. Determined.

As a blogger, I’m committed to promoting the idea that well-told stories are and will be critical to raise awareness about the implications of climate change. With this in mind, I have devoted the last several years to contacting writers, editors and literary agents worldwide, hoping to draw attention to the need for and potential impact of cli-fi.

I don’t write cli-fi novels. I’m not a storyteller. I want to read stories that create powerful images and words that make me think.

Words matter. If we can integrate a new term like “cli-fi” in our literary language, then maybe novelists can help increase public awareness of possible future global warming impact events. And, maybe, just maybe, even in the Age of Trump, world leaders will have the political will to slow down global warming.

Addendum (17 Sep): Here’s Dan’s list of CliFi books and here’s a “Five books interview” with Naomi Oresekes (author of Merchants of Doubt) on the politics of climate change and its future impacts if mitigation fails.

Addendum (9 Oct): Here’s an academic biography of cli-fi-inspired research and non-fiction.