Science Stories: The Art of Scientific Storytelling
New York – March 10th, 2020
Last summer in the kitchen I shucked five hundred oysters a day and never felt like I killed anyone. Like oysters, limpets hide their visceral twists behind them, special muscles they use to turn away from us. Torsion doesn’t have a clearly identifiable benefit but limpets, undiscovered, can live for a decade. Even two. The documentarian hopes someone will restore Manhattan’s oyster harbor and today she sets up a picnic of bread, cheese, grapes and writes beside my name the talent on the impromptu shoot schedule. As I crossed the street the still life became edible. Limpets slurp up algae with their radula, little teeth decorating something I couldn’t call a tongue. I don’t want to compare. A limpet and an oyster have less or more in common than I desire to understand. The documentarian got the Blue Points from a market by way of farm; limpets return to the home scar: a rock their shell’s topography might grow to match. They headbutt others to make space to grow their algae gardens. Limpets, one-shelled, could never close, and so I could never open them. When we finish the scene in the subway station and move to where the Staten Island Ferry docks, we are hungry and risk the still life. We carve out one side of the cheese with our fingers and on camera you would never know the difference. Limpets plant foot to substratum and hang on. High tide, low; their three-chambered hearts safe from birds and hands. People think limpets are stubborn, but that’s ridiculous. They’re alive. City traffic moved around me as I flipped oysters over in their shells; a businessman in the background puffed a whole cigar. Do you want one? I asked. No thanks, he said, but soon enough a neighbor came along, took an oyster from my lace-gloved hand, and ate it. Right there, as if nothing could go wrong.
Series Introduction by Alison Hawthorne Deming
Science Stories showcases the impressive literary work done by graduate students who participated in the first run of “The Art of Scientific Storytelling,” a new course I taught in Spring 2020 at the University of Arizona. The course, developed in collaboration with my Creative Writing program colleague Christopher Cokinos, was eligible for credit in the new Graduate Certificate in Science Communications offered by the College of Science. Its aim was to inspire creative works that were science-smart, works that might enhance science literacy among readers. The class read contemporary writers who covet the perspectives of science and the personal stories of scientists who write for non-technical audiences. We read memoirs, essays, op-eds, and poetry. We read works inspired by chemistry, astronomy, paleobiology, traditional indigenous knowledge: Primo Levi, Hope Jahren, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Kathleen Jamie, Alan Lightman, Gary Paul Nabhan, and Maggie Nelson, among others. The students came from a range of disciplines including optical science, astronomy, geography, climate adaptation, hydrology, mathematics, speech pathology, and creative writing. The conversations were rich and the talent abundant. They surprised me each week with their inventive and insightful takes on writing assignments. We offer this showcase of our experiment in the meeting of art and science.
Hannah Rego is a writer from Louisville, Kentucky. They are an MFA candidate at the University of Arizona and a founding editor of ctrl+v, a journal of collage. Their work appears or is forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry Vol. 3,Best Small Fictions 2020, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere.