Where Is Utopia in a Time of Disaster and Catastrophe?

A Conversation with Allegra Hyde


  • Allegra Hyde
  • Catrin Gersdorf




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.

Author Biographies

Allegra Hyde

Allegra Hyde is the author of three books: the story collection Of This New World, which won the John Simmons Iowa Short Fiction Award; the novel Eleutheria, which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Award and shortlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Prize; and The Last Catastrophe, which was named an Editors’ Choice selection by The New York Times. She currently teaches creative writing at Oberlin College.

Catrin Gersdorf

Catrin Gersdorf is Professor of American Studies at the University of Würzburg, and the Speaker of the Environmental Humanities class at the Graduate School for the Humanities. She is the author of The Poetics and Politics of the Desert: Landscape and the Construction of America (2009). Her published work includes essays and edited volumes on landscape and literature, the intersection of ecology and (American) democracy, the literary and cultural history of forests and gardens, and on individual writers, thinkers, and artists such as Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, Walter Benjamin, Willa Cather, Nathanael West, Angela Carter, Ana Mendieta, Toni Morrison, and Annie Proulx. Her current research focuses on literary and cultural responses to the challenges of the Anthropocene.




How to Cite

Hyde, A., and C. Gersdorf. “Where Is Utopia in a Time of Disaster and Catastrophe? A Conversation With Allegra Hyde”. New American Studies Journal: A Forum, vol. 74, Sept. 2023, https://doi.org/10.18422/74-1385.