Course Syllabus

Beyond Nature Writing: Introduction to Environmental Writing

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Balance internal and external details and ground your writing in a specific place.

Essayists are well-versed in adventures into the depths of the mind and heart, or excavations of the past. But environmental writing asks us to look outward, beyond the self, to consider the mysteries of the universe or the dirt beneath our feet. This course will show you how to balance the internal and the external, how to look around without losing your sense of self, and how to write an essay about your environment, whatever it looks like.

Environmental writing does not only mean writing about nature. Whether natural or manmade, wild or settled, beautiful, ugly, or sterile, any and all environments are worthy of deeper exploration. Together, we’ll train ourselves to see any place as full of stories waiting to be told, and to write about both the darkness and the light of any landscape. Through a series of generative writing prompts, you’ll begin several essays, and will submit one longer work for detailed feedback.

In this course, you will:

  • focus on the development of an individual narrative voice, even as you consider external subjects;
  • learn to transform scientific and natural details into sources of figurative language;
  • explore the possibilities of scientific research, from source material to field studies; and
  • respond to weekly brainstorming prompts for peer and instructor feedback, develop one longer essay, and receive detailed feedback from the instructor and your peers. nonfiction.

How it works:

Each week provides:

  • discussions of assigned readings and other general writing topics with peers and the instructor
  • written lectures and a selection of readings
  • writing prompts and/or assignments

Some weeks also include:

  • opportunities to submit a full-length essay or essays for instructor and/or peer review (up to 3,500 words)
  • optional video/tele conferences that are open to all students in Week 2 (and which will be available afterwards as a recording for those who cannot participate)

To create a better classroom experience for all, you are required to participate weekly to receive instructor feedback on your work.

Week 1: Placing Yourself

Environmental writing first asks us to look up and around, to locate our bodies in a geographic landscape. This week, using contemporary environmental essays and several explorative prompts, you will develop an awareness of yourself in relationship to your environment, whether it’s natural or manmade, wild or settled. Our focus will be on cultivating a narrative voice and a sense of interiority we can bring into dialogue with our world.

Week 2: Cultivating Wonder

Cultivating a sense of wonder and mystery deepens the environmental writer’s connection to possible subject matter. If even the objects in your own backyard astonish you, you’ll always have a ready source of detail, image, and metaphor. We’ll read several examples of writers versed in fascination and use writing prompts to practice fostering our own curiosity and sharing our discoveries with lush, descriptive language.

Week 3: Gathering Sources

Our focus this week will be on expanding the scope of our environmental writing by incorporating several forms of research. We’ll look at examples of essays making use of source material ranging from science to history to philosophy. You’ll get a primer on how to interview environmental experts, explore the possibilities of field research, and study how to weave together internal and external threads in your narrative.

Week 4: Confronting Darkness

Environmental writing isn’t all flowers and flitting birds. Nature can be cruel and brutal in the best of times, and as we face a global pandemic and changing climate, increasing natural disasters and mass extinction—we are not in the best of times. This week, we’ll ask what it means to write an environmental essay in our times. How can our writing confront the racist and colonialist history of our landscape? How can we acknowledge destruction, advocate for environmental protection, and still celebrate the beauty of the natural world? What are the ethical, social, and political responsibilities of the environmental essay? This week, you will submit your environmental essay for peer and instructor feedback.

Week 5: Harvesting Words

We will spend the week engaged in workshop conversations about each other’s work. In addition, we will consider revision as an act of cultivation, discuss strategies for expanding and deepening our essays, and explore several possible venues for publication.