2021 Year in Review

It has become a cherished tradition every December for Edge Effects editors to look back on the year and recommend a few of the pieces that have moved us, challenged us, and stayed with us. Despite another year of ongoing crises and upended schedules in 2021, we have much to be proud of thanks to the time, labor, and creativity of Edge Effects contributors.

Back in March, we launched the 2020 Visions: Imagining (Post-) COVID Worlds series to great success, with topics ranging from quarantine gaming and housing as infrastructure to pandemic nationalism and COVID in prison. Later in the spring, we closed out the Plantationocene series with Sophie Sapp Moore and Aida Arosoaie’s “Syllabus for Plantation Worlds,” an immense resource for educators and readers “who seek to understand the many different ways in which plantations, past and present, anchor the relations of power that sustain projects of colonialism, capitalism, and empire.”

This year, we had a record number of podcast interviews conducted by Edge Effects editors, including Clare Sullivan’s interview with Gail Carlson about PFAS in Nordic ski racing, Justyn Huckleberry’s conversation with Anahkwet about his work as a Menominee water protector, my discussion of the Driftless floods of 2018 with Carline Gottschalk Druschke, and two podcasts hosted by Weishun Lu, one about framing anti-Asian hate in an anti-Black society with Claire Jean Kim and a roundtable discussion about the Anthropocene in Singapore.

In addition to many posts about the pandemic, we followed important environmental news of 2021, including updates on the opposition to Enbridge Line 3 and the Indian farmers’ movement, along with a recommended blueprint for Indonesia’s new capital city. Tipping our hats to the magazine’s home base, we featured several popular pieces about the Midwest, including a call to decolonize the Great Lakes, a dispatch from Wisconsin apple orchards facing historic shortages in 2021, and a critical analysis of the Paul Bunyan legend in the Northwoods.

Starting next semester, you can look forward to several exciting new initiatives here at Edge Effects, including a brand-new themed series, the debut of book excerpts in the magazine, a call for creative book reviews, and the launch of audio narration to accompany select essays. Until then, feel free to spend some time in our archive enjoying the following recommendations from members of the editorial board that have been bright spots for us in a long year. If you enjoy what you read, consider subscribing to get email updates about new posts. As always, thanks for reading, listening, and contributing. Onward and upward to 2022!

—Richelle Wilson, Managing Editor

Thinking Beyond the ‘Wild’ Pandemic” by Alice Rudge

A blue paper masks sits in the grass
Discarded surgical mask on the ground. Photo by Ivan Radic, 2020.

I was honored to be one of the editors who helped launch the 2020 Visions: Imagining (Post-) COVID Worlds special series. In this series opener, Alice Rudge talks about how moral values are assigned to categories like the “natural” and the “wild”—labels that got attached to certain marginalized groups during the pandemic. Rather than tracing zoonotic diseases through linear narratives about a virus traveling from the “wild” to the “civilized,” from “traditional” places to “modern” locales, Rudge suggests thinking about them as “multispecies viral clouds” that arise out of complex relations. This is a tough ask. As I type this, my phone is buzzing with notifications about news stories that try to trace a neat lineage of the Omicron variant. In a time of panic, Rudge’s essay reminds us of the need to move away from single-cause thinking. 

—Weishun Lu

Be Like Water, An Abolitionist Relationality” by Ki’Amber Thompson

Green and purple ink swirls in water
Ink in water. Image by engin akyurt, 2021.

Water is healing. It teaches us to be interdependent, immersive, and restorative—to embrace complexity and pleasure. And as Ki’Amber Thompson writes, it teaches us to be open to the possibilities of abolition. Flowing down a river, we have no choice but to face the current and the rapids of our personal and collective pasts and futures. Over the past year, this became an important metaphor for my own healing as I navigated local waters in my pandemic-purchased kayak. In this salient installment of our 2020 Visions series, Thompson uses poetry and her own personal experience healing from racial violence to show us how water can manifest alternative, harm-reducing ways of being in the world.

—Justyn Huckleberry

Reading Climate Justice Through the Indian Farmers’ Movement” by Sritama Chatterjee

Two men sit on a blanket on the ground reading a newspaper
Reading the Trolley Times. Detail of photo from Indian Cultural Forum, 2020.

Late last month, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi capitulated to farmer demands to repeal three laws that would deregulate and further privatize India’s agricultural industry. The decision comes after more than a year of protests and demonstrations that saw tens of thousands of farmers flock to Delhi to fight for their livelihoods. In the face of a hostile mainstream media, movement organizers, writers, and artists created the Trolley Times, a biweekly newsletter for on-the-ground reporting from the movement’s frontlines. In this newsletter, Sritama Chatterjee saw a blueprint for climate justice. Back in March, she wrote about how the everyday acts of care, conviviality, and play documented in the Trolley Times were keys to its longevity and, ultimately, success. While the movement’s initial demands have been met, the fight for just agricultural policy in an era of climate change is far from over. May the Trolley Times remain an exemplar of how “multiple forms of reading practices” can help us envision radical futures.

—Ben Iuliano

Surviving the Pandemic in Prison” by Lawrence Jenkins and Carrie Freshour

A man kneeling by a garden plant with a prison fence in the background
Lawrence Jenkins tending plants on the prison property.

The structural inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic have been all the more dangerous for people in prison. With little control over their day-to-day lives, people in prison have been forced to take risks that those of us who were able to work from home never had to endure. For many on the inside, COVID-19 wasn’t, and isn’t, a question of if but when. I want to recommend this piece from Black political prisoner Lawrence Jenkins because it shows how the harm done during the pandemic at national, state, local, and individual levels affected incarcerated people in Washington state. Environmental justice includes prison abolition, and as we work to shape a better planet, we cannot forget those who have been locked away and silenced. 

—Juniper Lewis

Forever Chemicals on the Ski Trail: A Conversation with Gail Carlson” by Clare Sullivan

A gloved hand scooping snow into a labeled plastic container
Snow sampling at Quarry Road Trails. Research conducted by Skylar Tupper and Gail Carlson. Photo by Knack Factory for Colby College.

Over the past few years, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as “forever chemicals”) have become a highly debated environmental and public health issue because of how stubbornly they persist in landscapes, food chains, and human bodies. In this podcast episode, Clare Sullivan and Dr. Gail Carlson, an environmental studies professor at Colby College, explore a less-frequently discussed source of PFAS: fluorinated ski wax. Dr. Carlson’s new study in Chemosphere, co-authored with her student and Nordic ski racer Skylar Tupper, is the first to evaluate the occurrence, persistence, and mobility of PFAS at an area used for ski racing in Maine. As a cross-country skier myself, I was fascinated to hear about new policies that ban the use of PFAS in Nordic skiing, the need for more scientifically informed regulation around these chemicals, and the ways that Dr. Carlson integrates environmental advocacy into her research and teaching.  

—Carly Griffith

Zoom Somatics in Four Poems” by Petra Kuppers

Collage of four photos: spider; lead pipe; laptop screen; orange lichen on tree
Zoom somatics collage includes the following: Argiope aurantia photo from Wikipedia, 2008 (top left); lead pipe photo from Public Works Group (top right); Zoom screen on laptop photo by Aom Woraluck (bottom left); orange lichen photo by Tim Green, 2008 (bottom right).

Petra Kuppers’s short collection of poems on Zoom somatics, part of the 2020 Visions series, reflect on the simultaneous experiences of both isolation and new forms of intimacy during the pandemic. Kuppers’s wistful poems consider the numerous intimate moments present within shared digital spaces and our home environments while also commenting on the connections between disability and setting. Kuppers invites readers to consider these poems “as portal sites, as ways of transporting yourself into the minor, the small, the everyday, in caring and protective ways,” a sentiment that resonated with me deeply during this past year, when the ongoing pandemic has changed our ways of living to the core.

—Kuhelika Ghosh

Eating with Relatives in the Fort Peck Reservation” by Becca Dower

Dozens of bison grazing on pasture, one in focus facing forward
Bison herd at the Turtle Mound Buffalo Ranch, Fort Peck Reservation, Montana, 2015. Photo used with permission from © Thomas Lee / WWF-US.

What happened to the bison? If you received a similar public school education as I did, you might have once heard that they disappeared from the Great Plains after colonization. But like the Indigenous peoples who have long lived in relation with the bison, they are still here. Becca Dower retells this history, bringing it to the present in which the Nakota and Dakota peoples are actively reviving bison populations, traditional vegetables, and local foodways. In this essay, eating begins before sitting down at the table and relatives span beyond human family. As calls for decolonization grow louder, the initiatives taking place on the Fort Peck Reservation are critical efforts of a larger movement. Or, as Dower puts it, they are “part of the interconnected goal of re-Indigenizing not just Native foodways but entire economies.”

—Marisa Lanker

Green Gentrification in South Philly” by Sterling Johnson with Kimberley Thomas

Aerial view of bridge over blue river through a city
View of the Schuylkill Banks section of the Schuylkill Trail from the South Street Bridge. Photo by Montgomery County Planning Commission, 2014.

I’m a big fan of public green spaces. I’ve always loved a good picnic in the park, a stroll down the boardwalk, a stolen moment in the cool hush of a tree-lined path. The pandemic has made access to these places feel even more important to me and, I think, to many of us. But at what cost? This brilliant essay by Sterling Johnson, with Kimberley Thomas, digs into the archives to uncover a century-long campaign to build “Paris along the Schuylkill River” in Philadelphia—and how anti-Blackness, gentrification, and dispossession in South Philly, under the guise of environmental stewardship, brought that (white) utopian dream to fruition. “Green Gentrification” is a must-read essay that you’ll want to share with your friends in Philly, your students, and everyone else.

—Addie Hopes

Photographing Isolation and Connection in the Stars” by Kaitlin Moore

Shadowy figure points up at the night sky
Finding celestial bodies over the water. Photo by Kaitlin Moore, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape our lives and how we interact with each other and to structure our time in new ways. It has left many reconsidering the meaning of solitude and connection and looking anew at the world just outside the door. Kaitlin Moore’s astrophotographs take that gaze upward and provide a new view of the night sky. The essay that accompanies these beautiful photographs reflects on space, time, and the contradictory experience of “immense isolation and sublime intimacy” made possible by staring at the stars. Though the essay asks the reader to consider big questions, Moore’s writing is grounded by descriptions of their own pandemic experience and the local Wisconsin landscape.

—Clare Sullivan

Paul Bunyan and Settler Nostalgia in the Northwoods” by Kasey Keeler and Ryan Hellenbrand

Two people stand in front of a giant statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Ox.
Statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox on the shore of Lake Bemidji in present-day Minnesota. Photo by Kasey Keeler.

I didn’t have to reach too far back into the 2021 archive for this piece, published in early December, but I couldn’t resist including it in this recommendation list. It has so many ingredients I love: the Midwest forest setting, a discussion of placemaking and storytelling, and a critical engagement with folklore, all with an eye to Indigenous history and experience. Kasey Keeler and Ryan Hellenbrand trace how the Paul Bunyan legend has contributed to Native erasure and settler nostalgia in Minnesota’s Northwoods, inviting readers to consider this well-known figure through a different lens. Judging by the large readership this essay has already enjoyed this month, I’m certainly not the only one who appreciated learning about the history of Ojibwe lumberjack resistance and viewing lively images courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society. This essay is one to bookmark and return to.

—Richelle Wilson

Featured image: 2021 written in sand on a beach, about to be washed away with the tide. Photo by engin akyurt, 2020.