Tajja Isen, editor-in-chief at Catapult, met Amy Brady, executive director of the nonprofit environmental magazine Orion, when Isen edited Brady’s first essay for Catapult, “Encountering Beauty and the Effects of Climate Change in Acadia National Park.” They’re now coeditors of an anthology of essays on everyday experiences with climate change, The World as We Knew It (Catapult, June). Here, they discuss their collaboration, which PW’s starred review called “a poignant ode to a changing planet.”

How did the anthology come about?

Brady: I’ve been in the climate storytelling and communications space for a long time, and I noticed most climate storytelling was happening in the form of novels or scientific research. A lot of it focused on larger disasters—wildfires, sea level rise—which makes sense, as those are catastrophic. But in my personal life I was noticing it in small ways.

Isen: I loved working on Amy’s essay. In 2018, when she was traveling through Toronto, we met up and got on really well. When she told me about the anthology idea a few months later, I said I’d love to get involved in any capacity. She said, “Do you want to coedit?” And I jumped at the chance.

How did you choose pieces for inclusion?

Brady: I had a concern at the outset—that turned out not to be worth worrying about—that too many of the essays would cover similar ground. Reaching out to people of different backgrounds and nationalities helped to create a breadth of experience on the page. We had to think about not just the logic of each individual essay but how they would hold together as a collection.

Isen: We talk in the intro about bringing the planetary to the personal. With those constraints, essays treat the scope and scale very differently, whether it’s one’s relationship with one’s own house and land like in Lydia Millet’s piece or Gabrielle Bellot’s essay about a particular species of lionfish. I’m proud of the variety of focal points.

What’s it been like to work on this book during the pandemic?

Brady: When Covid erupted in the United States partway through the editing of this book, that changed the process. Our writers began addressing the pandemic in subsequent revisions, making links between the pandemic and the climate crisis. Many focused on how both were impacting marginalized communities first and hardest.

Isen: We were together in documenting this time we were all living through. The pandemic rears its head in various capacities across the collection. When you edit a personal essay you’re carefully handling the raw data of someone else’s life; the scale of what everyone was going through is metabolized in the book in cathartic ways.

What has working on this book taught you?

Brady: I look at anthologies differently now; I hadn’t thought before about an anthology as a tool for communicating the need for collective action. So many people speaking to such a large issue in beautiful ways made me think about how anthologies are communities—a way of signaling to the world that this subject matters.

Isen: Editing this book changed my relationship to the natural world. As I was working on the essays I had a visceral longing to be outside exploring spaces and landscapes. I wanted to take more opportunities to experience the world as we knew it, before a lot of these places have irrevocably changed or disappeared. Personal experience can be used as a way to illuminate broader phenomena, and convey urgency—and perhaps action—to its eventual readers.

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