“Sunvault” anthology brings the solarpunk genre to a wider audience

By Christine Salek

Iowa State’s MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment produces authors, poets and playwrights well-versed in what the program refers to as “the environmental imagination.” But for two students, exploring this idea meant setting out to advance a whole new genre.

After learning about solarpunk in a Tumblr post that gained popularity last September, now second-year student Phoebe Wagner came to fellow second-year Brontë Wieland with an idea.

“Phoebe approached me and asked me if I wanted to put together an anthology of environmental science fiction,” Wieland said.

“Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk & Eco-Speculation” was born out of this conversation.

Solarpunk is an emerging genre focused on working toward a better environmental future in science fiction as well as the associated positive solutions. The “-punk” suffix refers to its association with countercultural ideology.

“There’s also a lot of social justice that’s also associated with it,” Wagner added. “This idea that you can’t take environmental justice away from social justice, that they’re just sort of woven together.”

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Phoebe Wagner is creating spray art as a Kickstarter reward for “Sunvault” backers. (Courtesy of Phoebe Wagner)

Wieland and Wagner turned to Kickstarter at the recommendation of their publisher, Upper Rubber Boot Books, and leaned on their own previous experiences with the platform to make it successful. One of their major goals was to raise enough to pay every author whose work they decided to publish in “Sunvault.”

“It also seemed right that something like solarpunk that’s so based in community is also funded by the community,” Wagner said.

In less than a month, “Sunvault” reached its initial goal of $5,000. By the end of the funding period, 236 backers had helped them exceed their goal to the tune of $6,121.

“Having the Kickstarter funds allowed us to be generous so we were able to up how much we were paying for art,” Wagner said.

With solarpunk being such an unexplored genre, Wieland and Wagner were both worried and excited about the kind of submissions they might receive, as well as how people might interpret the genre and how they as editors would select the stories that would help define and embody solarpunk for a wider audience.

“We wanted to be able to give authors the chance to expand that without necessarily breaking the genre,” Wieland said. “I think we did a pretty good job; we’ve taken it interesting directions.”

The pair promised backers and fans on their Kickstarter that submissions would open as soon as they reached their initial funding goal. But in addition to open submissions, they also solicited work from some of their favorite authors, including A.C. Wise, Nisi Shawl and Daniel José Older.

“Probably our most exciting one was Margaret Atwood,” Wagner said. “We don’t have a Margaret Atwood story, but Atwood did email back our publisher and say that she liked the idea. So we were very thrilled about that.”

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Brontë Wieland “exercises his limerick muscle” completing rewards for “Sunvault” backers. (Courtesy of Brontë Wieland)

In the two months where submissions were open, “Sunvault” received more than 200 submissions, of which around 35 stories, poems, and black and white line art pieces were chosen for the final anthology.

The anthology is due to be published in May, but in the meantime, many backers of the Kickstarter have some unique rewards coming their way as a thanks for their contributions. Wagner is creating several spray art paintings, while Wieland is writing around 30 personalized limericks.

“Limerick is a fun form, and I think Kickstarters usually work better when they have something a little bit different in them,” he said. “I was excited to get a chance to exercise my limerick muscle.”

Throughout what will turn out to be an 18-month journey from conception to publication, Wieland and Wagner both learned valuable lessons about the publishing process.

“[We’ve been] writing copy for the Kickstarter and creating our website and doing social media, and we’re currently proofing the entire book at this point,” Wagner said. “That’s been a unique experience. And working with a publisher and soliciting authors is not something you generally get on your own, so that’s been a really big learning experience for me.”

“Now we’ve got a pretty good idea of all the legwork that goes into it,” Wieland added.

And as for a second volume of “Sunvault”?

“We’ll see,” Wagner said. “Probably some of it will depend on [the] response and if Upper Rubber Boot offered and said, ‘we would really like to put out another one,’ then I think we would definitely both be involved. But we’ll see.”

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The bonds of siblinghood: Inside Iowa State’s LGBTQ+ sorority

By Christine Salek

What do you call a sorority that prides itself in “siblinghood” (not sisterhood), educates the community on LGBTQ+ issues and is more than happy to show off their pets for a good cause?

Just call them Gamma Rho Lambda – Omicron Chapter.

This chapter of the social, non-residential sorority more commonly known as GRL came to Iowa State in April 2014 and brought with it a whole new outlet for social change.

“One huge factor [that makes us different] is our diverse atmosphere,” said Kate Smith, senior in public relations and Spring 2016 inductee. “It is a very accepting space, and not just for identities but for personalities as well.”

Aside from its primary messages of inclusivity and acceptance – including being open to people of any gender – GRL plays a vital role in educating Iowa State students on issues related to the LGBTQ+ community.

“We host workshops at Iowa State to help further education about LGBT issues and causes,” said Jackie Horsfall, senior in public relations and founding member of GRL. “Being in the Multicultural Greek Council, you stand for more than just yourself. It’s a duty to do outreach, educate and have a platform.”

“Our push for educational outreach [is important],” Smith said.

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Members of Gamma Rho Lambda – Omicron Chapter pose outside Iowa State’s Memorial Union.

This push begins even before a student becomes a member of GRL. Unlike a traditional sorority, GRL’s recruitment activities take place after the school year begins, where interested students must attend at least one social event and one educational event. Following an interview process, they learn whether their potential new siblings voted them into the sorority.

New members don’t have to be part of the LGBTQ+ community, but they should be committed to being strong allies if they aren’t. According to its Iowa State Greek Affairs description, GRL “exemplifies the qualities of acceptance, diversity, unity and trust” – and Horsfall and Smith can tell you exactly how they continually strive to uphold these virtues.

“We are very big on [gender] pronouns: asking and giving pronouns and not assuming others’ pronouns,” Horsfall said. “We make sure all activities are inclusive for those with disabilities. And when planning holiday related events, we don’t have a ‘Christmas’ party, we have a ‘winter’ party.”

More generally, Smith said GRL “[makes] sure people are validated through their identities.”

“We are a unified group of individuals who share common bonds through our lived experiences in marginalized groups,” she said, also echoing Horsfall’s stress on ensuring everyone knows and respects each others’ pronouns.

As the year continues, GRL members will both engage in the aforementioned educational activities and hold fundraisers that benefit their local philanthropy, which they have yet to choose.

To benefit the sorority’s national philanthropy, The Trevor Project – an LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention organization – GRL will create and sell calendars of their pets.

“We all have an insane amount of pets,” Horsfall said.

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Gamma Rho Lambda – Omicron Chapter, Iowa State’s LGBTQ+ sorority, recruits new members every semester.

Efforts like this might be made easier by having a chapter residence where all members can provide live-in help, like a traditional sorority. However, neither Smith nor Horsfall believe the lack of a house takes away from the most important thing: sibling bonding.

“We have weekly business meetings that bring us all together, as well as socials and events to attend,” Smith said. “I think it’d be great to have a residence, but it’s not feasible for our sorority at this time.”

Even without a house, GRL still makes sure that members of the LGBTQ+ community can come together in a safe environment with allies that can help amplify their voices.

“Those who are [part of the LGBTQ+ community] experience GRL on a different level than our allies,” Smith said. “We have a personal stake in the sorority as it specifically stands for us and our identities.”

And as a group committed to the advancement and positive visibility of minoritized individuals, the more diversity within their ranks, the better.

“Representation is key to acceptance,” Horsfall said.

Out-of-state students embrace life in Iowa

By Christine Salek

There’s no demographic data that can tell you how many Iowa State University undergraduates have taken a summer job detasseling corn, but there’s a good chance around 2,000 of them can’t even tell you what that is.

While the vast majority of Iowa State undergraduates hail from Iowa itself or a state that borders it, a small percentage are neither Midwesterners nor international students: they’re the ones from states with dozens of options for a quality in-state education who, to the often questionable delight of locals, ended up here.

Shance Bagos Taylor, a senior in architecture, transferred to Iowa State from Cal Poly Pomona after only a year, leaving his home state of California behind.

“I traveled away from California to put myself outside of my comfort zone and see what it would be like to live halfway across the country and so far away from my family,” Bagos Taylor said.

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Shance Bagos Taylor, senior in architecture, shows off the hills and valleys that make his Northern California home unique – especially compared to Iowa’s mainly flat landscape.

Nationally, Iowa State owns a respectable No. 111 ranking from U.S. News & World Report. Highlighting the university’s penchant for success, Bagos Taylor’s architecture program was recently ranked No. 20 by DesignIntelligence, a bimonthly design publication.

“I wanted to find a good out-of-state architecture program,” he said. “ISU happened to fulfill both criteria.”

On the other hand, sophomore Kyra Rojas – a Texan majoring in marketing and Spanish – was already familiar with Ames from visiting family in the area growing up. When she started looking at colleges, she was concerned that staying in Texas meant she’d have to choose between majoring in marketing or Spanish.

Iowa State’s Languages & Cultures for Professions program, which Rojas had never heard of until she got to Iowa State, allows her to study both in a unique environment.

“This program allows me to integrate my passion for languages and my marketing skills without having to take as many credit hours as double majoring requires,” Rojas said.

Of course, even if a student’s perfect-match program happens to be in Iowa, that doesn’t mean the transition that comes with moving to the Midwest is as straightforward.

Coming from such large states, it’s expected that students like Rojas and Bagos Taylor would experience a miniature culture shock at first. Both said that Iowa is very different from their homes, from the famous “Iowa nice” personality to the way Iowans talk.

“[One thing] I first noticed was that people here seemed nicer than in California,” Bagos Taylor said. “At this point, it’s normal.”

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Kyra Rojas, sophomore in marketing and Spanish, poses with a bronze statue of George Washington at the Dallas Arboretum in her home state of Texas.

“Sometimes it’s overwhelming, mainly in the way everyone speaks,” Rojas said. “People here definitely have that Midwest accent. My friends back in Texas tease me for [accidentally acquiring it myself].

“But then my friends here tease me for saying ‘y’all.’ I can’t catch a break.”

In spite of the changes – and an admission that he can’t wait to move back to California after graduation – Bagos Taylor believes his decision was for the best.

“I’ve learned through architecture, studying abroad and trips with friends that I love traveling and adventuring around the world,” he said. “That is something I am planning to do in my future.”

Rojas agreed, explaining that while it was scary at first, moving more than 700 miles away from her hometown contributed to her maturity and independence.

“Being so far from my parents isn’t the easiest, but I’m really glad I’m here now,” she said.