English 309: Nonfiction Nature Writing
Instructor: Lacy Johnson
‚ÄúWhen we speak of nature,‚ÄĚ Emerson wrote, ‚Äúwe have a distinct but most poetical sense in the¬†mind.‚ÄĚ Romantic poets in particular (as well as certain transcendental philosophers!) have¬†encouraged us to think of nature as an undisturbed essence, a wildness, a ‚Äúsomewhere‚ÄĚ that¬†stands separate and apart from human influence. And yet, the idea of ‚Äúnature‚ÄĚ itself is the¬†product of human imagination. In this creative writing workshop, we‚Äôll 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‚Äôll 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 ‚Äúnature.‚ÄĚ To that end, we‚Äôll 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.