Earlier this fall, Allegra Hyde published her debut short-story collection, Of This New World, to great acclaim (see our review here). Each story focuses on a new beginning of sorts—the Garden of Eden, an environmentalist commune in the Bahamas, a colony on Mars—together illuminating both the potential and limits of utopian idealism. Funny, lyrical, and at times deeply moving, Of This New World is hard to categorize. It’s at once science fiction and fabulism, as much an exploration of communal optimism as a meditation on individual humility, doubt, and compassion. In short, there’s nothing quite like it.
In our interview, we discussed Of This New World, as well as Hyde’s writing process, her interest in climate change, and how living in New Hampshire has shaped not only her politics, but her talents as a writer.
Amy Brady: One thing I love about this collection is that it’s filled with communities that most people would think of as having nothing in common (Shakers and Mars colonists, for example). What inspired you to look in so many directions (back and forward in time, up to the stars and down toward Earth) in one collection?
Allegra Hyde: I’ve been obsessed with the idea of utopia for many years. What draws people to seek paradise? What keeps them from finding it? This interest naturally emerged in my fiction through stories specifically about intentional communities, as well as in stories about the individual pursuit of ideals. I wrote about many different types of people—from Shakers to Mars colonists—because I wanted to consider the implications of utopian thinking from different angles and perspectives. Living in a utopian community means different things for parents than it does for children, for instance. Or for who lives inside a community and who lives just beyond the border. I tried to cover a lot of ground in Of This New World in an effort to present a holistic narrative.
Amy Brady: Of This New World brims with anxieties about climate change and the future of humanity. In what ways do these subjects interest you beyond fiction?
Allegra Hyde: It is terribly important, in my view, for writers and artists to direct their work toward issues like climate change—issues that are much easier to ignore than confront. Our role is to look closely at what others find uncomfortable, to aestheticize what might otherwise be invisible. I also try to engage with issues beyond the page. A few weeks ago, for instance, I attended a rally protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. We gathered in downtown Houston—“the belly of the beast,” as one of the other protestors said. I never feel like I’m doing enough, though. There’s so much work to be done.
Amy Brady: What do you make of the recent spate of climate fiction (or “cli-fi”) that’s emerged in recent years? Do you think it’s a bona fide new genre of literature or a fleeting trend? Or something else?
Allegra Hyde: I’m guessing “cli-fi” is here to stay. What will be interesting to watch, however, is how this kind of fiction evolves alongside our rapidly changing world. Is climate-fiction going to become more and more darkly dystopic? Or is it going to serve as a vehicle for imagining solutions?
Amy Brady: You live in New Hampshire—arguably one of America’s most important states in an election year. Has living there informed the way you write about politics or political ideas, even ones that relate to fictional worlds like the ones found in this collection?
Allegra Hyde: Ha! Granite-Staters, as we New Hampshire residents call ourselves, may have a bit of an ego when it comes to our political importance. It has never occurred to me, though, that my home state may have shaped the political elements present in Of This New World. Maybe it has? In New Hampshire, we have this sense that our vote genuinely matters. We consider ourselves first-in-the-nation (the Iowa caucus can go to hell). We can swing red or blue. Our motto is “Live Free or Die.” Politicians try to court us by visiting our greasy little diners and making speeches in front of our quaint town halls. They make us feel important. Maybe I’m willing to broach political subjects in my fiction because I’m bringing a little New Hampshire pomposity to the page: I like to believe my fiction matters as much as my vote.
Amy Brady: This collection frequently crosses genre boundaries, becoming science fiction in one moment and then historical fiction in the next. Was it a conscious decision to genre jump?
Allegra Hyde: I took my first fiction class about eight years ago. I started writing seriously about five years ago. In some ways, I am still finding my “voice.” This interest in experimentation is reflected in the stylistic variation you see Of This New World. I enjoy the challenge of writing in different modes. It pushes me to work different literary muscles, which, I hope, will ultimately make me a stronger writer. It’s possible I may never find a style that is definitively Allegra Hyde. I’m okay with that. I admire writers who continue to evolve, like Denis Johnson. He could be writing Jesus’ Son over and over. Instead he’s writing all kinds of novels, plays, poetry, screenplays, and even nonfiction. I would love to continue pushing the boundaries of genre, style, and form as I mature as an author.
Amy Brady: How do you know when a story is working?
Allegra Hyde: If I know where a story is headed before I write it, the story usually doesn’t work out. If there’s no excitement built in for me as an author, there probably won’t be any for my readers. My best stories are often the ones that surprise me while I’m writing them—whether in turns of language, plot, or form. When a story is really working, it gives me butterflies. It’s like meeting a crush: there’s chemistry between me and the tangle of text. Half the excitement is in not knowing where things are headed but still hoping for a good time.
Amy Brady: What draws you to the idea of “starting over,” which, in a way, is what all of the characters in your collection are doing?
Allegra Hyde: I’m fairly young, but I feel like I’ve already lived many lives. I’ve been a small town girl who never heard of sushi and I’ve been a globetrotter dining on Tako Sunomono in Singapore; I’ve been an athlete who trained for hours twice a day and a hippie who couldn’t remember the day of the week. I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to try on so many different shoes. Maybe it’s an American thing: the sense that reinvention is always possible. I find fresh starts thrilling because they are a meeting point of optimism and fear, of past failures and future possibilities. Our lives can fundamentally change in hugely dramatic ways, but when that happens we discover the steady aspects of ourselves—which are, of course, what really define us.
FICTION – SHORT STORIES, SPECULATIVE
Of This New World by Allegra Hyde
University of Iowa Press
Published October 1, 2016
Allegra Hyde’s stories have appeared in the Missouri Review, New England Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, the Gettysburg Review, and the Pushcart Prize XL: Best of the Small Presses. She lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
Amy Brady is the Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Review of Books and Deputy Publisher of Guernica Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Oprah, The Village Voice, Pacific Standard, The New Republic, McSweeney's, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.