Nature Writing: History & Craft

This hybrid course combines a literature class with a writing workshop and introduces students to the poetics and politics of nature writing

course description

In this hybrid literature and creative writing course, students will:


1. Read and analyze works across a range of nature-writing genres. 

Students learn the dominant ways in which American literature (narrative, non-fiction, and poetry) has represented the natural environment — not only wilderness but farms, ranches, suburbs, and city landscapes.


2. Explore the aesthetic, ethical, ideological, and philosophical issues inherent in nature writing.

Students pay particular attention paid to the relationship between landscape and identity, style and form, and content and perception. How are human relationships to natural landscapes and animals mediated through literature? Why is so much nature writing tied to autobiography? What lies at the intersection of nature and culture?


3. Explore the rhetoric of nature writing.

Students examine the persuasive techniques of environmental writers and journalism and study how nature writing is a bridge between academia and the public. 


4. Compose an original nonfiction nature piece.

Students craft original works of nature writing and experiment with different techniques, processes, styles, methods, genres, voices, audiences, et cetera. Class is often spent outdoors where students experience the natural world, reflect consciously about their perceptions, and learn to write as they perceive, not as they know.

required texts

1.  a hardbound blank sketchbook or notebook of at least 150 pages
2.  Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You  by Clare Walker Leslie
3.  Everglades: River of Grass  by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas
4.  Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek  by Annie Dillard
5.  a nature book of the student's choice, to be determined during the third week of class

overview of Assignments

Short Assignments

 -  daily writing

 -  creation of a nature journal

 -  written critiques of pieces submitted to workshop

 -  participation in every in-class workshop

 -  bibliography of relevant research that supports the student's piece for workshop 


Autobiography of the Student's Relationship with Nature

Students write a 6-8 page autobiography chronicling their relationship and interaction with the natural world. It is an opportunity to explore their past, present, and future connection with the outdoors & non-human animals and to take inventory of themselves.


Survey of the Nature Writing Landscape

Students investigate and consciously examine what nature writing they have read, why they have read these works, how they find new works to read, and which works they want to read. Students begin by reviewing a comprehensive list of nature-themed creative nonfiction books and highlighting the works they have read and want to read. Next they write a reflection essay on what the exercise revealed about them as a reader and what the list revealed about the landscape of nature writing. 


Eco-Critical Essay

Using the tools and framework of ecocriticism, students analyze a work of fiction, creative nonfiction, or film of their choosing. 


Original Nature Essay or Story

Students write an original piece of nature writing, targeted at a specific publication (such as Orion or This could be a memoir; an exploration of place; a focused examination of an issue, concept, or object; or some other example of non-academic nature writing.