She tells the story of the men who were cast adrift in the South Pacific after their whaling ship, the Essex, was sunk by a huge whale. The sailors were in a bad situation; the decisions that they would make would literally mean their life or death.

Walker points out that fears contain stories, and suspense. Fears, rather than something to be avoided; our fears, read properly, can make us think about the future in more productive, less catastrophic ways.

Why you should listen:

In Karen Thompson Walker’s 2012 book The Age of Miracles, a young girl and her family awake one morning to discover that the rotation of the Earth has suddenly begun to slow, stretching the length of the 24-hour day and throwing the natural world into disarray. It’s a big, speculative book, but at heart, it’s a simple human drama, told through the eyes of an observant adolescent girl.

A former book editor at Simon & Schuster, Walker worked on the novel for three years, an hour each morning before work. Fun fact: The Age of Miracles was published on June 21, 2012 — the longest day of the year. Since then, the bestselling, much-awarded book has been translated into 29 languages.

Who is she:

Karen Thompson Walker was born and raised in San Diego, California, where The Age of Miracles is set. She studied English and creative writing at UCLA, where she wrote for the UCLA Daily Bruin. After college, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the San Diego area before moving to New York City to attend the Columbia University MFA program.

A former book editor at Simon & Schuster, she wrote The Age of Miracles in the mornings before work—sometimes while riding the subway.

She is the recipient of the 2011 Sirenland Fellowship as well as a Bomb Magazine fiction prize. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.


  1. What is important about the ship story? Why would a writer choose to introduce a Ted Talk in this manner?
  1. What was your biggest fear as a child? Has that changed? What is your current biggest fear?
  1. What part of “reading our fears” helps us to function successfully (think our what she said about “productive paranoia”). What two characteristics does Walker think are best for reading our own fears?
  1. Are there instances when you or someone that you know makes bad decisions because they are in fear of the “cannibals” of their present day life?
  1. Fear can control our future or enlighten our future; discuss using current examples to support your points.
  1. Conduct a survey and present it to someone for discussion and conversation. For your survey, ask males and females of various ages to tell what they fear most how those fears affect them.

What fear can teach us with Karen Thompson Walker


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