Noted climate justice essayist Mary Annaïse Heglar will spend the next six months at Columbia University under a newly launched writer-in-residence program. The program is a joint initiative between Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and seeks to explore the intersection of climate science and art as a way to engage a larger audience.
Heglar is director of publications for the NRDC, but she has gathered a large following through the personal essays she writes in her spare time. Her writings underline how climate change disproportionately affects people of color, and push for a more inclusive response to climate change. She also dissects the emotional challenges of being a climate-conscious individual, addressing the feelings of hopelessness, guilt, grief and even blind optimism that can impede meaningful conversations around taking action.
The writer-in-residence program will enable Heglar to focus most of her time on developing ambitious and creative long- and short-form writing projects related to climate. “This opportunity is offering me the time and creative freedom to explore my voice in different ways, which is sort of hard to do when you have a full-time job,” she explained. She will remain at NRDC under an advisory capacity during the six-month program, and will return to NRDC after the residency.
“This is an essential moment for the climate movement to find and embrace compelling voices that engage people on the issue,” said Michelle Egan, chief communications officer at NRDC. “Mary’s work is cathartic in helping her readers process fear and anger, but also highly constructive in engaging people to think about the issue more broadly and equitably. We need a lot more of that right now.”
In addition to focusing on her writing, Heglar will be engaging with the Columbia community and the broader public through events — including an upcoming panel discussion on climate storytelling — and through a weekly reading group that will analyze personal essays focusing on climate change. She will also be working with the M.A. program in Climate and Society to develop new curriculum that focuses on climate justice.
“Over the past year, the Earth Institute has increased its efforts to connect science, arts and storytelling in new and novel ways, and this writer-in-residence pilot program is an exciting part of that endeavor,” said Alex Halliday, director of the Earth Institute. “We are thrilled to have Mary as part of our network, and I am looking forward to seeing how climate justice topics in particular are amplified in the work of our community of scientists, students, faculty and staff.”