Fracktivism lit: New anthology ignites environmental conversation

Reading with Fracture co-editor Taylor Brorby and contributors Tyler Priest, John Kenyon and Amy Weldon

Prairie Lights — Sat., Mar. 26, 7 p.m.

Natural gas flare stack -- still image from Fracture promo video
Natural gas flare stack — still image from Fracture promo video

On Saturday a reading at Prairie Lights will feature the editors and a few of the contributors from a new anthology called Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America from North Liberty’s Ice Cube Press.

From deepest green environmentalists to fracking experts, this is a fracktivist’s handbook and an essential read for poets, essayists and fiction writers who have an interest in the impact of the technique of hydraulic fracture for gas and oil extraction.

There are a plethora of Iowa writers here, along with internationally known writers like climate change expert Bill McKibben, bioregionalist author Stephanie Mills, environmental lawyer Carolyn Raffensperger, philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore, eco-activist Derrick Jensen and many more.

Editors Taylor Brorby and Stefanie Brook Trout put out a call for submissions and received about 80 pieces. Then they gathered a few dozen more from writers, poets, academics, journalists and activists they admired and culled it down to fifty-some works — mostly essays and short stories, with poems punctuating the mix.

The collection has something for everyone, without getting too wonky or crunchy-granola.

“We wanted to see how pieces did or didn’t work together, what would create a type of ‘flow’ for the reader, and what would help highlight new perspectives on fracking,” co-editor Brorby said via email.

The volume is almost twice the size of their original proposal, and Trout said that they had enough non-fiction works to fill a book, but wanted to include multiple forms of writing, like poetry and fiction about fracking.

“Some inform, some entertain, some try to persuade and some are simply art — expressions of imagination for the sake of beauty or emotional power. Most of the pieces do more than one of those things,” Trout said.

“If all we had to say was, ‘Fracking bad,’ it wouldn’t have taken more than 400 pages to do so. But everyone who sent us work accepted as a given that the environment is worth protecting,” she added.

Contributors Jensen and Tyler Priest might best represent the range of thinking in Fracture.

Jensen’s essay, “Insanity,” enumerates the various monumental ecological challenges humanity faces and leaves no question as to what he thinks of fracking — that it should be stopped completely.

Known for his eco-centric ideology, Jensen acknowledged the disparate voices in the book in an email: “The problems we face are severe enough that we certainly need a lot of different people approaching this from a lot of different angles.”

Jensen said, “If we talk about ‘sustainability,’ what are we talking about sustaining?”

“Our loyalty must be to the real world,” he said. “The loyalty of too many people is with this way of life, not with the natural world. They want to sustain this culture, not the natural world.”

Jensen said he finds inspiration from “the nonhumans who are hanging on despite the horrors that this culture keeps throwing at them. And the humans who keep fighting this insanity too.”

Priest’s analysis of extraction, “Frackenstein’s Monster: A History of Unconventional Oil and Gas Technology,” gives context to hydraulic fracking and explains some of the techniques and details of fracking.

“There’s a lot of disinformation about fracking, deliberate or otherwise, and it doesn’t help when environmentalists cite discredited studies or constantly bring up or refer to Josh Fox’s Gasland, which may be one of the most dishonest documentaries I’ve ever seen,” Priest said in a phone interview.

He believes fracking can be cleaned up and ends his chapter with a call to regulate the extraction industry not ban it.

“Books like Fracture and the environmental opposition to fracking, as well as the Bakken pipeline, are good because they keep the industry and regulators honest,” Priest said.

Activists Ahna Kruzic and Angie Carter became friends during the Occupy movement in the spring of 2011 while they were at Iowa State University. They worked together on the community and student-led campaign that was successful in pressuring ISU to back out of a Tanzanian land deal cooked up by Bruce Rastetter, the Board of Regents member, and one of his companies, AgriSol.

For Fracture, they wrote a metaphorical “Feminist’s Guide to Fighting Pipelines,” that asks readers to “move beyond the here and now” and “forge the paths” to reach future generations. “If your pipeline is stopped, we’re still facing total destruction or almost total destruction.”

By email, Carter said, “The guide emerged through our shared frustration with the failure of some progressives to center questions of privilege and power in their work,” and she admitted that early drafts were “darker” because she was questioning the efficacy of the pipeline fight.

Carter said that she believes stopping the Bakken pipeline “will come down to individual landowners pursuing legal fights and the collective, creative energy of all of us as we continue to stand with them figuratively and, if it comes to it, literally in their fields.”

Their chapter concludes with a call for bravery and to trust in the undoing and remaking that follows: “There are wrongs we have not even learned to see yet that have not been named. There is so much more to learn, to change, to do.”

Brorby’s contribution is an essay about White Butte, the highest point in North Dakota. He recollects a family trip taken when he was a child, then reflects on the White Butte.

“The reader meets a younger version of me and then a version of me that’s close to my current age,” he said. “White Butte — North Dakota’s highest point — was a seminal landmark in my childhood.”

Co-editor Trout said her chapter for the book, “Hear No Evil,” forced her to confront her reluctance to start thinking about fracking and her “complicity in the system that supports it. It’s very difficult to not be complicit,” she said, but added, “Assigning blame isn’t what’s important because we’re all to blame, and once we acknowledge that, we can move past the apathy and the divisive two-sided framework to work together toward an actual solution.”

“Bringing a book like Fracture into the world is important because our society needs to cultivate healthy, productive ways to talk about big contentious issues like hydraulic fracturing,” Trout said, adding, “We have not attempted to represent every side of the issue, but we have aimed to provide context for conversations about fracking and to illustrate just how complicated the issue is.”

And what’s the common thread that ties together the writers in Fracture?

“Fracking isn’t just a political issue to them. It’s deeply personal,” she said.

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