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She Lost A Jungle; Now She’s Saving the Planet:
An Interview with Sari Fordham

by Michael Hardin

Sari Fordham is the author of the forthcoming memoir, Wait for God to Notice, from Etruscan Press. She has lived in Uganda, Kenya, Thailand, South Korea, and Austria. She received an MFA from the University of Minnesota, and now teaches at La Sierra University. She lives in California with her husband and daughter. Sari also writes a newsletter, Cool It, which addresses the climate change crisis.
 
How does your newsletter allow you to address similar themes that you introduce in Wait for God to Notice

In Wait for God to Notice, I write about growing up in Uganda in a house surrounded by jungle. Vervet monkeys harvested our tomatoes, mambas hung from branches, driver ants streamed through the yard and even into the house. We saw bush babies, genet cats, mongoose, and lots of bats. The jungle felt immense when I was a child, though I later realized that it was a miracle, a small habitat next to a college campus, and then on my last visit back to Uganda, it was gone. I hardly knew where I was without the trees. I could have wept, though I also understood the practicality of it. I can’t stress enough how many snakes lived in that jungle. The loss of the forest that surrounded our Ugandan house is a small piece of a much larger narrative. Since I lived in Uganda as a child, over 60 percent of the country’s forests have been cut down. Today, young Ugandans are on Twitter asking the world to respond to climate change—which is hitting Uganda particularly hard—and to speak out about deforestation. That’s one part of the story.

The other part of the story is that my memoir is coming out in May. Conventional wisdom says writers need a newsletter. But I was certain that I didn’t want one. In fact, I began a conversation with my husband Bryan about how I absolutely, positively was not going to start a newsletter, and somehow I ended the conversation excited about the newsletter I was about to start. All Bryan had done was listen deeply as I made a connection between my childhood and my environmental activism and how a newsletter could fit between those two spaces.
 
Does the newsletter allow you greater freedom to confront climate change without the veneer of literature? 
 
I really think it does. I’m trying to write the newsletter I would want to read. Reports from climate scientists paint an increasingly apocalyptic future. It’s hard to hear as a parent, especially since climate change isn’t an abstraction; it’s something we’re already experiencing in California. The future—my daughter’s future—looks potentially very bleak. As a mom, I need some actionable steps, otherwise I’m going to start turning off the radio when NPR reports on the environment. The title of the newsletter—Cool It: Simple Steps to Save the Planet—is a little tongue in cheek. Obviously, there is nothing simple about responding to the complexity of climate change. But the title is also a little sincere. Sometimes we decide a problem is so big that it’s unsolvable and therefore we must accept the status quo. I think we’re already seeing a bit of that defeatism and it serves corporations and others who exploit the natural world. And so, I wanted to focus on what regular folks can do. It turns out, we can do quite a lot.

The newsletter format allows me to provide those actionable steps to readers, whom I assume are both busy and concerned. Each month, I focus on one change readers can make in their personal lives (compost, plant clover, stop online shopping for a month) and one action to disrupt the systems (let corporations know you’re paying attention, contact your city council person). With a newsletter, I can use hyperlinks to make it easy for readers to answer calls for action.

How does the newsletter introduce readers to Wait for God to Notice

I would love readers of the newsletter to become readers of my memoir. I currently have information at the bottom of my newsletter about Wait for God to Notice and how my childhood connects to my environmentalism. I don’t address my book in the body of the newsletter because I’m very focused on environmental actions. Perhaps when my book comes out in May, I’ll have a brief note, but I’m still figuring things out.

Starting a newsletter has been rewarding because I get to think about climate change from a place of response. In my ideal world, my newsletter readers will start composting or maybe add clover seed to their yard. Maybe they’ll attend a city council meeting or switch to a more sustainable toilet paper brand. No reader is going to make every change. My hope, instead, is that every reader will feel more optimistic, more knowledgeable, more empowered.

Michael Hardin is an M.A. candidate in Creative Nonfiction in the Maslow Graduate Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University. He is currently working on a memoir, Touched.

New Releases from Etruscan

We are pleased to welcome Sari Fordham’s Wait for God to Notice to the Etruscan Press family.
 
What is it like to grow up in a Seventh-day Adventist missionary family in Idi Amin’s Uganda? Driver ants and mambas, shaking hands with the dictator. In her memoir Wait for God to Notice, Fordham describes in lush and observant prose the country she loves, the dangers her family faces, her parents’ conflict, and the insular, peculiar faith that shaped her. Through her work, Fordham reckons with her mother’s death and discovers a legacy of courage and capability. 
 
Fordham teaches creative writing at La Sierra University in Riverside, California.

AWP Small Press Award Nomination

Etruscan Press was named one of four finalists for the 2021 AWP Small Press Publisher Award by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. The award recognizes a press or literary journal that has made a significant contribution to contemporary literature. This is Etruscan’s second nomination; the press was previously nominated for the Small Press Award in 2017.
 
The Etruscan editorial team were in their own corners of the world when the news came in, working from home as is typical in these times. Yet, while separated by space, they were united in the singular joy of being recognized for, as Executive Director Phil Brady put it, “The work you hold in loving custody.”
 
“In the sludge of daily emails—buy, sell, compare, submit—it appears: a message that doesn’t query or remind or coax or palaver,” Brady said. “An act of acceptance. Of gratitude. A thrill. ‘I’m delighted to inform…’ “Warm Congratulations….’ ‘It is with great pleasure…’ This one—the Small Press Award Nomination (our second time!) is especially rewarding because it links us to presses I admire—Noemi and Dzanc and of course the winner, Milkweed. In the small press world, Milkweed is venerable. They’ve been around since the seventies; they are in their second generation—a place Etruscan aspires to, one day. And so I daydream that one day in 2040, an e-mail will arrive at Etruscanpress.org. ‘I’m delighted to inform’ it will begin.”
 
Pamela Turchin, Etruscan’s Production Editor, noted the same sentiment of the forgettable mundane broken with momentous news of the award. “When I heard we had been nominated, I was probably either shoveling snow from the various blizzards we've had here in Pennsylvania or dealing with a broken water pump that flooded my basement,” Turchin said. “I felt honored to be a part of this process and thrilled that our team effort was recognized for all the work we do every day.”
 
Executive Editor Robert Mooney remarked, “I’d been writing (what else would an old scribe be doing on a snowy Wednesday afternoon?) and was taking a break, looking up out of the foxhole to see what was going on beyond my desk.” The view beyond his foxhole was bright: “It was wonderful news to receive. It felt like applause. In fact, it felt like a curtain call. This is the second time we’ve been named a finalist for this recognition, so there is no doubt AWP truly does recognize Etruscan as a press that has, as the citation reads, ‘made a significant contribution to contemporary literature.’”
 
For Managing Editor Bill Schneider, the announcement came amidst another sort of triumph. Proving all the possibilities that come from the strength of human will and spirit, Schneider was recovering from his COVID-19 vaccination. Feeling lethargic and sore, he finished up a Zoom meeting. “Then I walked my puppy, Max, through the snow-covered park adjacent to my apartment,” Schneider said. “We returned home to find the email confirming Etruscan was named a finalist for the 2021 AWP Small Press Award. I immediately forwarded the email to the Etruscan editorial team. Then, Max and I celebrated with a martini for me, and a Kong filled with treats for him. It is beyond wonderful to be recognized by your peers! In an industry where Etruscan has achieved its mission to nurture the dialogue among genres, cultures, and voices, it is an honor to be named a Small Press Award finalist by AWP.”
 
Mary Poth earned a B.A. in Professional Writing from Kutztown University and an M.A. in Fiction from the Maslow Graduate Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University. Poth is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Wilkes University where she serves as an intern for Etruscan Press.

About Etruscan Press:

Housed at Wilkes University and partnering with Youngstown State University, Etruscan is a non-profit literary press working to produce and promote books that nurture the dialogue among genres, cultures, and voices.

For the latest Etruscan events, please visit our website.
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