UMass launches new literary magazine that uses art to engage people with the environment

AMHERST —  A new literary magazine run by the University of Massachusetts aims to use art to engage people with environmental issues.

Paperbark, first published last fall, brings together poetry, short stories, visual art, photography, excerpts from novels and other creative work into one literary journal focusing on climate change and other environmental issues. Staff are currently working on a second issue.

The inaugural issue includes a piece by British Virgin Islands climate change officer Angela Burnett that focuses on the narrative of one person’s experience surviving Hurricane Irma. An excerpt of local writer Ellen Meeropol’s book, “Kinship of Clover,” tells the story of a young environmental activist and his supernatural connection to plants he aims to save.

The idea for the project originated with a group of graduate students in 2015. It took awhile for the project to get off the ground, but the first issue, “Emergence,” was eventually printed in the fall of 2018.

Now, the publication is sponsored by the UMass School of Earth and Sustainability, the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, and the UMass library, according to Rachel Berggren, the publication’s editor-in-chief and a UMass sustainability sciences master’s student​​​. Copies of the magazine can be found at Amherst Books and sell for $14. Berggren hopes the publication can be sold in other places in the future.

There is a lot of environmental science writing out there, but, “That doesn’t always get the message across — We decided to take a literary approach,” said Charles Misenti, a UMass master of sustainability science student who works on the magazine.

The group gathers suitability-focused art and writing.

“Hopefully through that (we) give people a different lens to view sustainability through instead of just the things you see on TV, the politics, the science,” Misenti said.

“I think the goal of the magazine is to create space for conversations about sustainability to both nurture people’s voices and spaces for conversation, while also catalyzing positive change,” said Berggren.

A letter opening the magazine further explains its importance: “In this time of ecological crisis, ever-mounting inequality, and political upheaval, it is more important than ever that we cross traditional divides to find community in unexpected places.”

About 60 percent of the work is from writer and artists in the Valley, according to Berggren, and the publication’s first issue even had some international submissions — 10 percent of submissions came from people in other countries.

The magazine publishes work by people from a range of disciplines, too.

“We encourage scientists to communicate their message in a way that represents creativity as well,” Berggren said.

For example, the publication’s team has been talking with an anthropological researcher who creates graphic novels, and they are soliciting work from an environmental scientist who is also a painter.

The journal’s name comes from a species of maple tree with red-brown bark. Paperbark can be found in Amherst.

Paperbark is currently accepting submissions for their next issue on the theme of resilience. “We want people to think about what resilience means to them — the role resilience plays in adapting to climate change,” Berggren said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how people portray that through media.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at

Author: Going Green

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