Dragonfly.eco is a place to find meaningful stories about our natural world and humanity’s connection with it. The site explores the wild, crazy, and breathtaking literary trail of eco-fiction. Despite the genre’s rich history, beginning in the 1970s (see the “Roots” section below), eco-fiction has kept up with the times. The range of stories found in this field of literature, which can include environmental and nature themes in Black and Indigenous fiction and futurism, decolonization literature, magical realism, literary and contemporary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, lunarpunk, solarpunk, LGBTQ+ literature, and more, is evolving. Diversity and inclusion are central.
I think of eco-fiction not so much as a central genre than as a literary mode that joins environmental issues, natural landscapes, including flora and fauna—and usually human connection—into any genre and makes it come alive. The ecological elements of stories do not exist simply in the background but are deeply integral to the story, even if used as symbols or metaphor. Often times, writers refer to this mode of writing as rewilding the novel. The human connection is diverse and can refer to anything from cultural diaspora to climate refugees to weather event impacts to reverence of and protection of nature.
See more about eco-fiction at Wikipedia and in my two-part series about this category of literature at ClimateCultures.net. I’ve also created a large world sampling over at Medium.com.
Definitions and Explanations of Eco-fiction
Jim Dwyer researched hundreds of books for Where the Wild Books Are: A Field Guide to Ecofiction (University of Nevada Press, 2010) and stated that his criteria in choosing whether or not a book was eco-fiction was closely related to Lawrence Buell’s:
- The nonhuman environment is present not merely as a framing device but as a presence that begins to suggest that human history is implicated in natural history.
- The human history is not understood to be the only legitimate interest.
- Human accountability to the environment is part of the text’s ethical orientation.
- Some sense of the environment as a process rather than as a constant or a given is at least implicit in the text. (1995, 6)
Further, Dwyer was not exclusive with genre when describing eco-fiction:
[Eco-fiction is] made up of many styles, primarily modernism, post-modernism, realism, and magical realism and can be found in many genres, primarily mainstream, westerns, mystery, romance, and speculative fiction. Speculative fiction includes science fiction and fantasy, sometimes mixed with realism, as in the work of Ursula K. Le Guin.
Note that John Yunker, author of The Tourist Trail and co-founder/editor at Ashland Creek Press, called eco-fiction more of a “super genre” (personal correspondence, August 2016).
Dwyer said that eco-fiction “might be simply described as a critical perspective on the relationship between literature and the natural world, and the place of humanity within.” Source: Chico News & Review
Eco-fiction, according to Mike Vasey, includes:
Stories set in fictional landscapes that capture the essence of natural ecosystems…[They] can build around human relationships to these ecosystems or leave out humans altogether. The story itself, however, takes the reader into the natural world and brings it alive…Ideally, the landscapes and ecosystems–whether fantasy or real–should be as ‘realistic’ as possible and plot constraints should accord with ecological principals.
Eco-fiction became popular in the 1970s, along with other environmental movements, and opened up a new literary study that connected humanities and nature. In 1971, Washington Press published editor John Stadler’s anthology Eco-fiction, a collection of environmental sci-fi, which included such authors as Ray Bradbury, John Steinbeck, Edgar Allen Poe, A.E. Coppard, James Agee, Robert M. Coates, Daphne du Maurier, Robley Wilson Jr., E.B. White, J.F. Powers, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Sarah Orne Jewett, Frank Herbert, H.H. Munro, J.G. Ballard, Steven Scharder, Isaac Asmiov, and William Saroyan.
According to The Cambridge History of the American Novel‘s chapter titled Contemporary ecofiction, “Ecofiction is an elastic term, capacious enough to accommodate a variety of fictional works that address the relationship between natural settings and the human communities that dwell within them. The term emerged soon after ecology took hold as a popular scientific paradigm and a broad cultural attitude in the 1960s and 1970s.” Eco-fiction, or ecologically oriented fiction, includes topics such as human impacts on the environment, like climate change, and nature-oriented literature. Source: Jim Dwyer’s Where the Wild Books Are: A Field Guide to Eco-Fiction (University of Nevada Press, 2010). Eco-fiction includes other mediums, such as film, art, and poetry, but this site mostly focuses on novels and short stories.
We live in a world where fiction covering ecological themes, including climate change, is bursting out all over. Are you confused about these genres? Here’s a helpful guide.
I’m writing a research paper and wish to reference your article. Would you please provide me with the name of the author, publisher, date published, etc… for a proper MLA citation?
Hi, this is a dynamic article, first published July 3, 2014, last edited in July 2020. New information has been added with new research.
The author is Mary Woodbury. The publisher is eco-fiction.com (update: now dragonfly.eco). Please let me know if you need any further information. Cheers.
So happy to have recently discovered this website and community — and to have my recent hunch verified, that there is a (sub)genre of fiction to which my current effort belongs: eco-futurism or eco-fiction.
Thanks, Kannon! And it’s good to see you at the Google+ community.
Pingback:World-building for dummies - Pam J. McGaffinPam J. McGaffin
Pingback:Eye on the Indies: Sunvault | The Woven Tale Press
Excellent and enlightening article covering eco-fiction in a variety of ways that can definitely help people embrace the genre in whatever genre or medium they happen to enjoy. From poetry to romance, science fiction to fantasy—and I’d like to draw a correlation from cave paintings to photography (Think Ansel Adams, one of my favorites)—eco-fiction is a voice that calls attention to our responsibility to be stewards of the Earth and all of its resources.
Fall in love with Nature, care about it, draw the connections between Nature and humans, understand the relationship we have with Nature and the importance of nurturing that relationship, even warning of the dangers of ignoring Nature and our responsibilities—eco-fiction’s voice plays a vital role.
Thank you, Heather!
Fine way of explaining, and good post to take facts regarding my presentation subject,
which i am going to convey in college.
Thank you Mary for a very comprehensive resource on eco-fiction and all it entails. Very interesting and useful. From one eco-fiction author to another!
Thanks! It’s always wonderful to hear from readers.
Sou brasileiro e fiquei muito interessando no estudo dessa temática. vc me indica alguns artigos cinetificos
I came here searching for clarity on how to categorize my “eco-speculative-historical-magical-feminist” novel, “Heart Wood,” wishing that “eco-fiction” was considered a genre option. To date, Fiction: Visionary & Metaphysical seems the best choice. “Eco-fiction” is such an umbrella designation – any hope for it becoming its own genre? Any suggestions?
Some scholars have defined it as a genre for half a century. I myself see it as more of an umbrella category, like you say. I don’t think it’s ever been commodified or buzzed about in the media to a degree that it would become commercialized, which may be good or bad. This site hopes to bring forth the flesh of the literary field, mostly by talking with authors about their works rather than by marketing the genre. It is sad, however, in places like Ingram content group and other printing/publishing corporations, that there is no category for any sort of environmental adult fiction.
Just a note that now Ingram does have a category for environmental fiction!
Thank you for compiling this site; love the name and symbolism of a dragonfly. I am finally able to categorize my two ecological e-books as neither fictional or scientific but as a combination of both…combining the art of storytelling to explain ecological principles that may be invisible to the eye but are essential for survival from the soil to the sun. I will share this site to continue to share information about this valuable genre to make nature more at home and more respected in the future.
Beautiful thoughts, and thanks!
This is interesting and I am searching all over the net about this eco-fiction topic. All the content on this page is useful in my writing project in the future. One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple. Thanks for sharing your information.
Thanks for the post. It helped me organize my presentation,”The Dynamics of Science and Nature Writing for Fiction and Nonfiction,” for the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, this April 10, 2021.
Pingback:Recommended Reading (July 2021) | The James Sowell Family Collection In Literature, Community and the Natural World
Pingback:A Brief Guide to Ecofiction by BIPOC Authors – Imobiliare 24
Pingback:A Brief Guide to Ecofiction by BIPOC Authors - USVI News
Pingback:A Brief Guide to Ecofiction by BIPOC Authors – Book Library
Pingback:Is Eco-Fiction just a load of doom-mongering? | MandaWaller
I like this article! A little click-baity in the title, but it’s a well-thought article on how eco-fiction is so diverse as well as occurs in various genres. My thoughts exactly.