This summer, Kelli Fitzpatrick has assisted FLOW in researching and writing about the threat of water commercialization and the ethics of water stewardship. Originally from Beaverton, Michigan, she now lives in Iowa, where she attends graduate school at Iowa State University. We asked her a few questions about her background, plans, and writing interests.
FLOW: What have you studied at the university level?
My bachelor’s degree was in Secondary English Education from Saginaw Valley State University, after which I taught high school English for eight years. The graduate degree I’m earning is a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Environment, with a minor in philosophy.
In this grad degree at Iowa State, I am learning about environmental literature, the function of place in narrative, and the role of storytelling in environmental advocacy. My time in the program so far has been spent writing novels, screenplays, and short stories that explore environmental issues, grapple with metaphysical concepts, and imagine possible sustainable futures. My internship with FLOW satisfies part of my degree requirements and is meant to inform my creative writing, as well as give me hands-on work experience in the field.
FLOW: Outside of work and school, what are your passions?
I love outer space and physics in general; it’s why I write science fiction, to inspire people to think on a grand scale of space and time. Most people who know me would say I’m passionate about Star Trek. I have written some officially licensed content for the franchise and regularly attend sci-fi conventions. There is something deeply optimistic about Star Trek’s vision of a future for humanity where we’ve gotten past war and poverty and live in harmony with the planet and with each other.
I believe we owe it to past and future generations to protect the Lakes, their watersheds, and their ecosystems as best we can.
Community outreach and education are also things I am very passionate about. When I lived in Michigan, I served on the Board of Directors for the Saginaw Bay Writing Project, where I got to lead writing groups and help provide workshops to educators. I am hoping to organize more such opportunities in the future, including some collaborative events I’m currently sketching out that are focused on the intersection of climate advocacy and the arts.
Finally, I am passionate about water, and the Great Lakes specifically. They have a sort of deep, powerful presence like nothing else on Earth, and support a host of diverse life. I believe we owe it to past and future generations to protect the Lakes, their watersheds, and their ecosystems as best we can.
FLOW: What life experiences sparked your interest in environmental advocacy?
Growing up on a family farm allowed me to appreciate the beauty of natural settings and the complex interconnectedness of humans and their environments. Camping trips to Lake Michigan and Lake Superior when I was young convinced me the Mitten was the most magical place to live.
Unfortunately, the Lakes are not always treated with the respect they deserve. In 2018, I learned that my drinking water, which was sourced from Lake Huron, was contaminated with PFOS, a class of “forever chemicals” used in industry that bioaccumulate. It seemed so brazenly careless to me to allow such corruption of a sacred resource.
FLOW: Why were you excited to work with FLOW?
My first encounter with FLOW was in 2018 when my friend and fellow author Anne-Marie Oomen asked me to contribute to a FLOW advocacy project called “Love Letters to the Lakes,” a collection of creative works that was shared with the International Joint Commission. I was thrilled to contribute; it was the first time I realized that creative writing could be used to instigate real-world policy change.
I am an optimist at heart, and truly believe humanity possesses the ability to mitigate and/or solve many of the environmental crises we currently face, including climate change, pollution, and inequitable access to clean water.
This past spring, I took a series of extended education classes through Northwestern Michigan College that were taught by FLOW founder Jim Olson and focused on issues facing the Great Lakes, including climate change and Line 5. I not only learned a great deal about ecology and water activism, but I recognized FLOW was doing the kind of work I wanted to get involved with.
I contacted FLOW about doing a graduate internship, and was thrilled to get the chance to work with FLOW Senior Advisor Dave Dempsey, assisting in the research and writing of a section of a report on the commercialization of the Great Lakes. These reports influence public opinion and serve as resources for leadership in making policy decisions, so it was an incredible honor to get to contribute to the project. I was excited to intern at an organization I trust and respect, but also to be mentored by someone of Dave’s exceptional experience and writing skill. It was an amazing experience, and I hope to do more of this type of writing in the future.
FLOW: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of our environment and why?
I am an optimist at heart, and truly believe humanity possesses the ability to mitigate and/or solve many of the environmental crises we currently face, including climate change, pollution, and inequitable access to clean water. However, I also recognize there are challenges involved in getting from here to there, especially when it comes to working within entrenched, exploitative systems. That is one of the great roles of advocacy: to work steadfastly through the messy, difficult parts and not lose hope. A livable future will not simply manifest; we will have to create it. FLOW is engaged in doing that on all fronts, and I’m honored to get the opportunity to contribute to their efforts.
Kelli Fitzpatrick is a science fiction author, editor, and game designer. She has written officially licensed Star Trek content for Simon and Schuster and Modiphius Entertainment. A former high school teacher, she is an advocate for water rights, public education, the arts, and gender representation. She can be reached at KelliFitzpatrick.com and on Twitter at @KelliFitzWrites.