Cascade  | The Process Series; UNC Chapel Hill 

Livestream performances: Apr. 16-17, 7:30 p.m.| $10 suggested donation  

North Carolina novelist, playwright, and memoirist Jim Grimsley’s broad body of work, over the last four decades, has ranged from incisive examinations and critiques of the economic and social schisms shaped by Southern racism, poverty, and homophobia, to fantastic visions of futures and otherworlds populated by creatures as fallible and vulnerable as ourselves.

Along the way, he’s won two Lambda Literary Awards, the American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award, the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Award, and citations from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and PEN America.

In his latest work, the near-future drama Cascade, mass migrations following the first waves of the now-unfolding global climate crisis have taken social order to the brink of chaos.

Grimsley’s work provides a surprisingly intimate view of two Southern families on the edge of an apocalypse, running for their lives. Joseph Megel directs a staged reading for  UNC’s works-in-progress Process Series this week. Ahead of the production, the INDY sat down with Grimsley to discuss his work.

INDY: You wrote this work in response to The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, David Wallace-Wells’ worst-case scenario on global warming, in January 2020. Then, the pandemic hit.    

Grimsley: We were writing about catastrophe—and all of a sudden, the world was overtaken by a catastrophe of an entirely different sort. And I thought, ‘Well, this is actually a rehearsal for what’s to come.’

What we’ve been through is so extraordinary: an event that everyone in the world has shared and that everybody in the world will point back to forever. That’s not a usual thing outside of warfare. But it is a kind of prelude to what’s going to happen.

You do think a catastrophe like you depict is going to happen?

Yes. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to destroy us. I don’t believe in hopelessness; I cut my teeth in the era when we were going to be destroyed by the nuclear bomb. I don’t believe the language of “We’re going to destroy the planet” is at all helpful. The planet is going to be just fine. We’re the ones at risk; our place in all of this is what’s under threat. If we act quickly, we can ensure at least the survival of something, possibly the survival of a civilization. If we devote ourselves to the technological possibilities out there, we can make it better. But we can’t stop it. In Cascade, I wanted real people to have to cope with it, and not to give up, because I think that’s realistic. There will be people who give up, but there will be people who don’t.

Primo Levi’s “the drowned and the saved.”


Hannah Arendt said evil is a problem of the imagination. We have such difficulty, I think, simply imagining a world where our status is no longer quo.

I think we have to remember that the “we” in this case is a very narrow segment of humanity. A good deal of the world already lives in disaster—day-to-day, perpetual disaster. I do think we are going to turn out to have been in a ‘blessed’ set of generations who lived through a remarkable time of plenty and tranquility. And there’s so many signs that’s just not going to be around in the future.

When reading [Wallace-Wells], I began to understand, very specifically, that this was going to destroy the future of my own family, my nephews, nieces, and my great-nephews and nieces.

The people we think we’re raising now to live a life very much like ours are going to face a future where perhaps all of that is going to be taken away from them. I’m not even talking about political disaster. We’re going to compound it with political disaster. It’s inevitable. Eras of massive migration are eras when nations collapse, and new nations arise. But in this case, the wave of migration may not stop for a long time.

Because it isn’t just political instability chasing them; humans can’t live where they were anymore.

And not in small parts of the world: large parts of the world. There’s no pleasant way to look into this. You’ve got to be willing to open yourself up to the loss of the world that you know, and so many of us clearly can’t do that.

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