Our Long Brown Land by David Stone

Growing concern over this season’s low-levels of snowpack in the Sierras has brought numerous comparisons to California’s lowest recorded snowpack in 1977. This summer we may be once more “under the sky that deafened from listening for rain” as Gary Soto wrote in his 1977 poem “The Drought.” Californians need to place drought literature at the top of their reading lists because it provides us knowledge of our past and visions for our future.

The Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton wrote, “man uses his old disasters as a mirror.” Natural disasters such as drought allow humans to see more clearly their relationship to Earth and its natural forces.

The classic American novel of drought is John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” which describes farm families fleeing the Great Plains’ Dustbowl in the 1930s with false hopes of an Eden in California. Steinbeck’s novel helps readers to see the environmental, economic, and human costs of drought and the great migrations that major droughts can cause.

The term “dustbowl” is increasingly being used to refer to California’s Central Valley. Former Inlandia Literary Laureate Gayle Brandeis recommends Alan Heathcock’s “Scenes from the New American Dustbowl” with photographs by Matt Black, published in the online magazine, Matter. Reminiscent of Steinbeck’s travel literature, the fiction writer Heathcock turns to nonfiction to tell the story of farmers along California’s Highway 99.

Drought drives home the value of water. Joan Didion’s essay “Holy Water” from her 1979 collection “The White Album” reminds us to reconsider the complex and distant sources of California’s water. Didion says, “the apparent ease of California life is an illusion, and those who believe the illusion real live here in only the most temporary way.” The megadroughts of prehistorical California, like the 240-year-long one that began in 850, make Didion’s words sound prophetic.

For the definitive history of water resources in the American West, read Marc Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert,” commonly described as an illuminating look into the political economy of limited resources. For a more in-depth look at the history of the Colorado River, which Reisner called the “American Nile,” read “Contested Waters” by water historian April Summitt of La Sierra University.

The Nebula and Hugo award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi’s “Water Knife,” now available for pre-order, presents a near future dystopia where Nevada, Arizona and California fight over the water of the Colorado River. Early reviews describe it as a science fiction thriller with a realistic portrayal of an all too probable future.

“Water Knife” may also be classified as climate fiction, cli-fi for short. Climate change concern drives this emerging genre’s increasing popularity in literature and film. Often described as a cousin of science fiction, climate fiction typically focuses on the results of climate change in the present and near future. J. G. Ballard began the cli-fi genre with a trilogy of novels in the 1960s , including “The Burning World,” which tells the story of a global drought caused by industrial waste. The novel was later renamed “The Drought.”

Should we as humans see ourselves essentially in conflict with nature? Do Southern Californians misconstrue natural disasters “by a way of thinking that simultaneously imposes false expectations on the environment and then explains the inevitable disappointments as proof [of] a malign and hostile nature,” as Mike Davis argues in “Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster?”

The academic field of ecocriticism, which examines how nature is portrayed in culture, prompts careful rethinking about the relationship of humans to the environment. “Readers should ask how could individuals and societies inhabit their world more sustainably. Literature can help us articulate the dangers and imagine the solutions,” says Lora Geriguis, associate professor of English at La Sierra University and host of the Natures conference, which annually draws ecocritical scholars from around the world.

Children can also use literature to cope with drought. Larry Gerber’s “Adapting to Drought” gives readers in grades four to eight a basic understanding of the science behind droughts as well as suggestions of how to take action. They might also enjoy Karen Hesse’s Newberry Award winning free-verse novel “Out of the Dust” that tells the story of Billie-Jo trying to survive during the dustbowl years of the Depression.

Teens looking for something beyond the myriad of dystopian novels should check out “We Are the Weather Makers: The History of Climate Change.”

If drought worries you, crack open Ruth Nolan’s “No Place for a Puritan” to the excerpt from Mary Austin’s “The Land of Little Rain.” “If one is inclined to wonder at first how so many dwellers came to be in the loneliest land that ever came out of God’s hands, what they do there and why stay, one does not wonder so much after having lived there. None other than this long brown land lays such a hold on the affections.”

For All Those Who Ask, What *is* Inlandia? by Cati Porter

Once again we are approaching that time of year when we give thanks for friends and family, take stock of what we have accomplished, and express appreciation for all those who have made it possible. So, thank you—we are all Inlandia.

A question I get asked regularly is, what is Inlandia? We have now been writing these columns for well over a year, and I don’t think we have ever addressed that directly here. Sure, you can make out who we are by the patchwork of topics covered here; what you see is what Inlandia is and does: many voices, all hailing from Inland Southern California, celebrating the region. But on the heels of what has been a banner week for Inlandia, I thought I would try to explain it in a little more detail.

The Inlandia Institute was established in 2007 as a partnership between the City of Riverside and Heyday, our co-publisher, after the publication of the anthology Inlandia: A Literary Journey through California’s Inland Empire. The idea was to found a literary and cultural center here in the Inland Empire that focused on the writers and readers of the region. Soon after, Inlandia moved into our own office, incorporating in 2009, and in 2012 Inlandia was granted non-profit status as a 501(c)(3).

Inlandia has five core programs: Children’s Creative Literacy, Adult Literary Professional Development, Publications—both with our co-publisher Heyday as well as a locally-produced independent imprint, Free Public Literary Events, and the Inlandia Literary Laureate. What does this translate to? Just this past year, Inlandia has:

– Served over 2000 children, including at-risk youth through The Women Wonder Writers program of the DA’s office, resulting in a collection of written work and a public reading and discussion; and in programs in Title 1 schools like Fremont Elementary, where we held a book discussion and gave all 200 fifth-graders and sixth-graders a free copy of Gayle Brandeis’ young adult novel, My Life with the Lincolns, thanks to a generous Rotary sponsorship.

– Served over 2400 adults through public outreach events like Celebrate Mount Rubidoux and the Mayor’s Celebration for Arts & Innovation, and by hosting free monthly author events during ArtsWalk at the Riverside Public Library, and writing workshops throughout Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, including a Family Legacy Writing Workshop at the Goeske Senior Center.

– Published: No Easy Way, the story of the integration of Riverside schools, by Arthur L. Littleworth, a chapter integral to Riverside history; Vital Signs by Inlandia Literary Laureate Juan Delgado and Tom McGovern, which went on to win an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; and the Orangelandia anthology, which contains the fruit of Riverside’s citrus heritage. And launching this week, a new children’s chapter book, Tia’s Tamale Trouble, by Inlandia author and educator Julianna Maya Cruz.

Inlandia also undertakes special projects from time to time, like “Making Waves in Inlandia,” which chronicles the stories of the women’s environmental movement through oral histories and a very cool interactive component on our website, including a map of all the spaces saved by local environmental activists, and video interviews.

We also have two other interactive features on our website—a map that details the location of every Inland Empire site mentioned in our flagship Inlandia anthology (which, regrettably, is currently out of print—but we are working on a second edition! More about that in a future post). And, just this past week, with the publication of No Easy Way, we launched an interactive timeline, “Time Travel through Riverside’s School Integration History.”

Further, after the first of the year, we will be launching a six-part series of monthly public civic discussion forums featuring esteemed panelists and partner organizations, with the kickoff event at UCR’s Culver Center on January 31, 2015, at 1 pm.

One of the sound bites associated with Inlandia is, “celebrating the region in word, image, and sound.”

Planned projects include a new Adopt-a-School program which will bring literary arts education, taught by professionals in the field, to area schools; a Native American Voices conference at the Dorothy Ramon Center in Banning, featuring and celebrating indigenous peoples; a writing workshop at the Ontario Museum of History and Art celebrating black aviators in February, in honor of Black History Month. Not to mention our usual monthly Arts Walk series at the downtown Riverside Public Library and the free writing workshops held in six different cities throughout the region.

We are supported wholly through the generous donations of our members, supporters, and through grant funding from organizations like the City of Riverside, the Riverside Arts Council, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and Cal Humanities. But like any arts organization, we are constantly thinking of creative ways we can ensure continued funding while also making it fun for contributors. Last week, we participated in the county-wide Give BIG day of giving, and to all of those who helped us meet our goals, thank you!

We are also currently in the midst of a book fair fundraiser sponsored by Barnes & Noble. If you missed the kickoff event on Saturday November 22, which featured readings by notable locals Larry Eby, Isabel Flores, Stephanie Barbe Hammer, Julianna Cruz, and a flurry of contributors to the Orangelandia anthology, know that you can still participate through the end of the week by shopping online or in store (any Barnes & Noble anywhere, as long as you have Inlandia’s code: 11484482), through Black Friday. So if like most people at this time of year you are beginning to think about holiday gifts, give a gift to Inlandia when you shop at Barnes & Noble this Thanksgiving week.

From all of us at Inlandia, we give thanks for you this week, and every week, throughout the year.