Susan Cope

Award-Winning Writer

AWARDS: What on Earth?

Finalist: Green Stories Writing Novel Prize

Green Stories Award Finalist

Winner: The Prism Prize for Climate Literature

The Prism Prize for Climate Literature


I’m from the foothills of the Berkshires in New England, but I’ve lived most of my life close to the Pacific Ocean.  Many days here are sunny, but I love the foggy ones too. In Malibu, high surf battered my windows, another time hurled a house below into the waves. Once a fire charged down the canyon, stopped just short of my house, so close embers singed my hair. Now, for many years, Santa Monica, a degree less wild, has been my home.   

The seeds of What on Earth? were planted years ago, when I worked in network news. At first hand, I experienced clear-cut forests, open mines, wild fires, blacktop so hot it melted the soles of my shoes, extreme weather events and a volcanic eruption. I’m one of few who survived a secondary but impressive eruption of Mount St. Helen from a helicopter tossed like a toy inside the crater. 

Later, I realized that my survival was dependent on forces larger than a volcano: global climate change means all life is at risk. I despaired. What on Earth? was born from that despair. How could we let that happen in the first place, and how could we continue along a clear path of destruction? Could we change the story?

Urgent and terrifying as I found this threat, motherhood and a second career in the classroom delayed What on Earth? Through my daughter, I came to know the springing joy, the luminous intelligence of young life. At school, my students slipped me a backstage pass to the world of adolescents. Their spirit, their brilliance, gave me a sense of optimism. Also a sense of how much we have to lose.

I’m a grandmother now, which only intensifies my deep sense that we are connected, we are in crisis, yet we can still wake from this nightmare, still save our earth, our threatened home.  We can change our story.

Susan Cope
Photo by Maggie Smith