Where Is Utopia in a Time of Disaster and Catastrophe?
A Conversation with Allegra Hyde
Keywords:climate fiction, utopia, contemporary fiction
In search of new literary voices that might present an answer to Amitav Ghosh’s 2016 lament on the failure of contemporary literary fiction to find forms that adequately express the multiple challenges of the Anthropocene, I came across a review of Allegra Hyde’s debut novel in the Los Angeles Times. The novel’s title, Eleutheria, was suggestive enough to pique my interest: etymologically, it evokes the concepts of liberty and freedom; geographically, it calls to mind the small island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas that was colonized in the late 1640s by a group of English Puritans known as the Eleutheran Adventurers. Add to this that Willa Marks, the novel’s narrator-protagonist, is a twenty-two-year-old member of Generation Z, the same generation as the students we teach these days, and Eleutheria (2022) becomes a worthy candidate for an American Studies syllabus. What kind of narrative tapestry was the author able to weave out of the materials of history, climate change, and a young generation’s growing frustration with the ecological and political state of the world? I was ready to discuss these and similar questions with a group of students in a seminar on Anglophone Literature in the Anthropocene during the summer semester 2023. Serendipitously, the son of an American colleague and long-time friend studied with Allegra Hyde at Oberlin College, where she is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing. He suggested that she might be willing to discuss her novel with a group of German students. When I issued the invitation to join us digitally for one session, she accepted. I interviewed Hyde, who is also the author of two short story collections – Of This New World (2016) and The Last Catastrophe (2023)– a few days later. The following text is the transcript of that conversation. It has been edited for readability.
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