January 13, 2007

Teaching nature writing - Part 1

This blog started as a class blog for English 325, "Nature Writing in the West." The class is on a three-semester rotation, so if you were to look at entries for spring 2004 and fall 2005, you would see some student-written entries.

It only became my individual blog when at the end of spring semester 2004 I hated to see it die and kept on writing my own contributions during that summer.

In some cases, however, as student "team members" were added and dropped and the blog was republished after template changes, my name ended up on some of the entries that they wrote. No matter.

Now I am working on the syllabus for another semester. That is a two-glasses-of-wine job at the least. I hate writing syllabi (and grant proposals and book proposals) but, unfortunately, I cannot always just go into the classroom and extemporize brilliantly.

It's a Tuesday-Thursday class, 90 minutes each time. That means I see the students only 28 times, plus a field trip or two. With so many students having job and/or childcare responsibilities, additional times are a problem. Maybe this year I could do something over spring break—but M. and I like to flee the area during spring break ourselves.

And there is so much to do. Familiarize students with a group of writers of whom most of them have never heard. (Gary Snyder or Deidre Elliott or Reg Saner or SueEllen Campbell or Ken Lamberton or whoever.)

Toss out new words like "ecocriticism" and "bioregionalism" and the famous Lynn White, Jr., essay that blamed our environmental crisis on the Judeo-Christian-Marxist matrix.

Talk about historical events like the Dust Bowl, which happened literally just down the road in SE Colorado, but which is forgotten in popular consciousness of most people younger than my parents' generation. Or about how the Forest Service's recreation program got started just outside of Pueblo, partly to counteract leftwing organizers in the old CF&I steel mill.

I look at nature writing as a type of creative nonfiction mixed with contemporary literature, but it is more than that. It is philosophy in the classical sense ("How shall we live?"). It is self-discovery ("What ecological and geographical factors led to my living where I do?"). It is history—the Dust Bowl, for instance,
as I mentioned.

It is also my favorite class to teach.

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