Originally posted on August 1, 2016
by Tammy Cloutier
Whole Terrain staff
We are continuing our series of posts that will profile the authors and artists featured in our latest volume, Trust. Learn more about the Trust volume here. Click this link to order Trust and previous volumes.
The black shadowy figure of a wolf rising to envelop a frightened elk leaps out at me as I turn the page. A sense of foreboding lingers as I pull my eyes from the haunting story “North Sector” by Allison Augustyn that appeared in our Trust volume. “The hunter is now the hunted.” With these words I become immersed in the dark and dangerous world of a young man trying to find his way, literally and figuratively, in a dystopian future of which we catch glimpses through this tale.
The piece is an excerpt from a young adult novel Augustyn wrote, and that is now in its final editing stages. The main character, a teenage boy, is a “complicated character surviving in a devastated world, yet he manages to find beauty in devastation, even as he seeks to repair damage.” She wanted to create a character who was “young enough that his definition of beauty would not be readily rejected, the way adults often reject foreign or ‘wrong’ ideas,” and elaborated that she “liked the idea of someone being able to find the beauty in ugliness, in the very things that are damaging the planet, in damage itself.” In writing the piece, she contemplated, “How could someone be comfortable or appreciative in a ravaged place when he knows that restoration is the goal?”
Formerly a nonfiction writer, in the last several years Augustyn felt inspired to pursue fiction as a means to communicate with readers in a different way, while utilizing some of the skills she had developed in nonfiction. As she explained, “Fiction requires similar goals and craft as nonfiction: observation, facts, striving for truth, sharing the human experience, to name a few. Both nonfiction and fiction allow the reader to step into a situation or character to feel out story, see how s/he would act if in the same position. Fiction requires more sensory details and allows the reader to go deeper. But in many ways, they’re built on similar craft principles.” Augustyn also stated that because her work was the only fiction piece in Whole Terrain’s Trust volume, she was particularly conscientious of presenting her work in the context of the other writers and did her best to submit an excerpt that would fit well in this setting.
So, what enticed Augustyn to submit her work for Whole Terrain’s trust theme? In a word: puzzles. It made her reflect on what trust means to herself and others, and she summarized her thoughts and process by stating, “We imply and assume so much from the word, yet to unpack it opens a lifetime of opinions and prejudices — you and I might define ‘trust’ differently, based on our individual experiences. It’s astounding that one word can carry so much weight and emotion. That’s why I love words. I’m drawn to any word that allows me to investigate my preconceptions about what it means to be human, and challenge myself to think bigger.”
This submission also offered Augustyn the opportunity to consider and better understand how trust relates to her personal reflective environmental practice. Environmental challenges are always in the back of her mind and make her more aware of her actions. “I carry fear with me, but I try to be conscious of that because I don’t want it to completely guide my environmental practice. I am constantly aware of my mistakes as a human being with a car, who doesn’t compost enough, who should have recycled better, and on and on…because I’m very concerned for upcoming generations.” She also tries to incorporate environmental messages into her work. In her piece for Whole Terrain and in her novel, she creates a possible future world that brings up important questions about issues such as genetic engineering and other forms of technology, human beings as animals within an interconnected ecosystem, and survival if our current food and economic systems were no longer possible.
Concern for the environment impacts Augustyn’s nonfiction writing. As she explained, writing is reflective in and of itself, and although her work is based on facts, she is now more observant and aware of those facts than ever before as she uses them to create new worlds. These new worlds have given her an even greater respect for this planet we call home. She views writing as her way of saying thanks.
Despite the damage our species has inflicted on our planet, Augustyn remains optimistic and continues to do what she can to bring awareness to others. She retains a positive outlook, stating that she is “learning that we’re all in this together, and that for every person who denies global warming and the ramifications, there is someone who is dedicated to creating solutions that work. I’m lucky to live in Seattle, where technology and good intentions and environment overlap so frequently. I’m learning to trust people to pull together. I’m trusting patience and that we’re playing a long-game — and that it’s going to be worth it.”
Bio: Allison Augustyn (Seattle, WA) is an award-winning writer and editor, and just finished a young adult novel about sex and depression. She worked at the Chicago Sun-Times, is coauthor of the PROSE award-winning book Gems and Gemstones (University of Chicago), and opened five exhibits as a writer at The Field Museum of Natural History. She is on the board of Richard Hugo House, and her most recent work has appeared in The Masters Review and Doll Hospital, among others. Learn more and read her blog at www.AllisonAugustyn.com.