‘Cli-fi’ in the classroom

By Dan Bloom

Danny Bloom

Danny Bloom

CHIAYI CITY, Taiwan – In the usual way I meet most people these days, I met Elizabeth (Berg ) Trobaugh the other day via an email she sent me from her office in western Massachusetts where she is a professor of English at Holyoke Community College. Her email arrived out of the blue, a complete surprise, but as you shall see, a welcome one, too.

There was a ‘mamaloshen’ component as well, as you see as you keep reading. As this website says, “There’s a Jewish story everywhere.”

It turns out that professor Trobaugh in not only Jewish, but is team teaching a climate-themed literature class this semester, with her colleague Steven Winter, titled “Cli Fi: Stories and Science from the Coming Climate Apocalypse.”

The class, part of a nationwide trend where colleges and universities are offering classes about the cli-fi genre of movies and novels, combines an ”Introduction to Literature” segment and a lab science segment, she said. “We meet with our students for six hours a week, plus a two-hour lab,” Trobaugh told me by way of introducing herself and her work.

“The final project of the class will have students write their own cli-fi short stories.”

When I asked her how she found me, she said she was doing some online research about the cli-fi term and found my name and email address via a Wikipedia entry and just wanted to say hello. “I found your name in a Google search when I was trying to learn more about the term ”cli-fi” and when the genre was first identified, and from there I found your website and blog,” she wrote.

”Our college is very supportive of interdisciplinary learning, allowing us to develop “Learning Communities” that combine two courses from two different disciplines.”

I asked Trobaugh what books her students were reading for the class.

“We are using a short story collection titled I’m with the Bears, and students will also be reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s [cli-fi novel] Windup Girl and science writer Elizabeth Kolbert’s nonfiction book titled The Sixth Extinction. We plan to show the movie Avatar and maybe Snowpiercer.”

The last part of her first email caught my attention, too.

“When I saw your email address, I just thought I’d reach out and say hi and thank you for coining the term and identifying the genre that we have built our course around,” she wrote. ‘I will direct our students to your cli-fi website, too.”

“I also want to tell you that I enjoyed reading your ‘Yiddish Guide to Climate Change’ that was published in San Diego Jewish World a few months ago,” she added. “The ‘mamaloshen’ proves itself flexible, yet again. You might consider sending your ‘Guide’ to Aaron Lanksy, the founder of the Yiddish Book Center, the largest repository of Yiddish books, in Amherst, Massachusetts.”

“By the way, I went to Tufts University in Boston, too,” she told me. “I graduated in 1986.” So we were fellow Tufts alums (I graduated in 1971), and we both shared a love for the ‘mamaloshen’. Elizabeth Trobaugh’s letter made my day on a quiet Sunday morning in Taiwan, and now we are friends.

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Bloom, based in Taiwan, is an inveterate web surfer and cli-fi enthusiast.  Your signed comment (first and last name) may be placed in the space provided below or sent to [email protected]

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