English 309: Nonfiction Nature Writing
Instructor: Lacy Johnson
“When we speak of nature,” Emerson wrote, “we have a distinct but most poetical sense in the mind.” Romantic poets in particular (as well as certain transcendental philosophers!) have encouraged us to think of nature as an undisturbed essence, a wildness, a “somewhere” that stands separate and apart from human influence. And yet, the idea of “nature” itself is the product of human imagination. In this creative writing workshop, we’ll explore some of the ways that creative nonfiction can become a vehicle for questions about how else we might imagine our place in the world, as well as the relationships between memory and landscape, politics and place, and inclusion and exile. We’ll look at some of the myriad ways these relationships have been documented in essays, memoirs, and narrative nonfiction. As we consider these texts, our emphasis will be on finding ways to reconsider received wisdom about “nature.” To that end, we’ll spend considerable time this semester outdoors, including, perhaps, engaging in field work, conducting interviews, foraging for wild plants, planting marsh grass, studying native ecosystems, and taking time to consider the ways we interrupt, intersect, and attempt to mitigate the living world around us. But more than anything else, this is a course in writing, and we will learn to write in ways that navigate the precarious terrain of personal experience, observation, science, research, memory, and facts. Students should be prepared to wade into the muck of swamps, and to become mired in the complexity and contradictions of nature, including and especially our own.