by Teagan Hughes
[originally published March 25, 2022]
Allegra Hyde, an Assistant Professor in the Oberlin Creative Writing department, published her debut novel, Eleutheria, on March 8th. Professor Hyde’s previous works include the short story collection Of This New World (University of Iowa Press), as well as publications in Tin House, American Short Fiction, and the Kenyon Review. Her novel Eleutheria was published by Vintage Books, an imprint of Alfred A. Knopf. A work of climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” Eleutheria tells the story of Willa Marks, a young woman who, with her life in flux, joins a utopian community of ecowarriors in the Bahamas and begins to unravel its secrets. The novel, which is now available anywhere books are sold, was described by Shelf Awareness as “a moving meditation on the promise and dangers of utopianism in a potential future plagued by climate change and authoritarianism.” I had the chance to speak with Professor Hyde about her debut novel; what follows is our interview.
Generally speaking, where did the idea for this novel come from? Is it influenced by personal experience? Does it build on any previous work?
This novel builds on my long term interests in the utopian communities -- a topic that is explored in my first book, a story collection called Of This New World. Before embarking on Eleutheria, I'd actually written a short story called "Shark Fishing" that appeared in my story collection. Even though it was the longest story in Of This New World, I felt like there was still more I needed to unpack. I wanted to know the characters better and to push their various agendas to an end point. It wasn't easy re-inventing and elongating that story, but I think that sometimes when a project calls to you, you have to answer. And this project -- or this topic has been calling to me for a long time, as a writer and as a person in the world. Though the novel is very much a work of fiction, it does draw on personal experience, including time I spent working on environmental initiatives in The Bahamas and living on hippie communes in New Zealand. Writing a short story and then this book helped me make sense of my own life, and put it in conversation with many years of research, as well as my own imagination.
I have seen Eleutheria described as "environmental fiction"; what landscapes or locations influenced the book?
The Bahamas, New Hampshire, Boston...
What did the research process for this book look like? What types of sources did you pull from?
Research was extensive, and involved years of studying a variety of texts across many different fields and genres. I read everything from historical surveys to wildlife guide books to poetry. Research also involved fieldwork and interviews!
How does this book relate to your teaching career? Is there any of your work at Oberlin reflected in Eleutheria?
Though the book was written over a span of about five years, as well as in multiple countries and U.S. cities, a portion of it was written while I was living in Oberlin. I did some of the most difficult revisions while teaching at the college; though there aren't direct correlations, I can't help but think that some Oberlin-ness seeped into the final form of the book. I am constantly inspired by my students, who are pushing themselves to grow as writers and as humans every day. This is a book very much about figuring out how to do right in a world full of so many wrongs, which I think is a very Oberlinian question to be pondering.
I saw that there is an audiobook on pre-order for Eleutheria! What did the process of getting an audiobook recorded look like? Do you feel that the change in medium affects the story, if at all?
As an avid audiobook listener, having my novel recorded was especially thrilling. The process involved listening to audio samples from various voice actors. Since Eleutheria is told from the first person POV, it was really important to find the right voice for the book -- for that voice to embody my narrator. Luckily I found a wonderful actor named Gilli Messer who fit the bill. Her reading sounds slightly different than how I heard the words in my head when writing them, but I think that's okay! She brought the material to life in her own way.
What's next in your career?
I have a second collection of stories, The Last Catastrophe, slated for publication next year. These stories are all speculative, and take the idea of "global weirding" (a phrase that is also used to talk about climate change) literally. I'm really excited to share them!