Kendall Jefferys ‘21: Environmental Fiction Writing

Summer 2020

About the Project

The Benenson award supported the writing of my novel, Yellow Leaves. This novel was inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself as well as my own personal fears of how climate change will affect coastal communities.

Whitman’s Song of Myself renders the individual as singular and yet wholly dependent and subject to its environment—like a leaf, one single leaf, falling to the grass, returning and assimilating into the soil. Mangrove trees have yellow leaves. Mythically, the mangrove’s yellow leaf is a sacrificial leaf that stores salt, and so it falls, dying for the rest of the tree.

The main character of my novel, Joan Archer, has visions of coastlines eroding and sinking back to the sea. As a coastal restoration ecologist, Joan never stops fighting to keep the tides from seeping in and dedicates her life to mangrove restoration, building a protective barrier between the ocean and the places she loves. While fighting to protect the environment around her, she loses sight of her personal life. In the end, Yellow Leaves is about the desire to go on, through our work and through our love, fighting for the places we call home.

My hope is that my novel, Yellow Leaves, weaves the urgency of climate change action into human stories, inspiring empathy and emotional connection that the issues coastal communities will increasingly face as sea levels rise.

I started writing my novel last summer. At the beginning of this year, I submitted an excerpt to Middlebury’s Environmental Writers Conference, which I plan to attend next summer. The conference will give me the opportunity to learn and share my work with fellow writers interested in creative responses to the environment.