Bookmarks: Karen Thompson Walker Uses Fear in The Age of Miracles and The Dreamers

Photo courtesy of Dan Hawk Photography

In Karen Thompson Walker’s 2012 TED talk she asked, “What if we thought of fear as an amazing act of the imagination—something that can be as profound and insightful as storytelling itself?”

Walker, a UO assistant professor of creative writing, uses the idea of fear as a productive force of the imagination to guide two novels, The Age of Miracles and The Dreamers.


In Walker’s new novel, The Dreamers (Simon & Schuster), a mysterious sleeping sickness spreads throughout a college campus and the surrounding town. Some remain stuck in an unresponsive slumber, unable to gain consciousness, while around them the town tumbles into chaos and panic.

Those affected by the illness are discovered to be experiencing heightened brain activity, including vivid dreams. According to Walker, dreams, like fear, are a remarkable gift of imagination that can allow a glimpse of what the future might be while there’s still time to influence how it turns out. Both play with our concepts of reality.

Talking about the relationship between fear, fiction, and the future, Walker says, “Just as with all great stories, our fears focus our attention on a question that is as important in life as it is in literature: what will happen next?”

Visit ted.com for Walker’s TED talk, “What Fear Can Teach Us.”

—By Darienne Stiyer

Darienne Stiyer, a journalism major and member of the class of 2019, is the student intern at Oregon Quarterly.