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Ecocriticism by Derek Gladwin LAST REVIEWED: 03 June 2019 LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0014

Ecocriticism is a broad way for literary and cultural scholars to investigate the global ecological crisis through the intersection of literature, culture, and the physical environment. Ecocriticism originated as an idea called “literary ecology” ( Meeker 1972 , cited under General Overviews ) and was later coined as an “-ism” ( Rueckert 1996 , cited under General Overviews ). Ecocriticism expanded as a widely used literary and cultural theory by the early 1990s with the formation of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) at the Western Literary Association (1992), followed by the launch of the flagship journal ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (cited under Journals ) in 1993, and then later the publication of The Ecocriticism Reader ( Glotfelty and Fromm 1996 , cited under Collections of Essays ). Ecocriticism is often used as a catchall term for any aspect of the humanities (e.g., media, film, philosophy, and history) addressing ecological issues, but it primarily functions as a literary and cultural theory. This is not to say that ecocriticism is confined to literature and culture; scholarship often incorporates science, ethics, politics, philosophy, economics, and aesthetics across institutional and national boundaries ( Clark 2011 , p. 8, cited under General Overviews ). Ecocriticism remains difficult to define. Originally, scholars wanted to employ a literary analysis rooted in a culture of ecological thinking, which would also contain moral and social commitments to activism. As Glotfelty and Fromm 1996 (cited under Collections of Essays ) famously states, “ecocriticism takes an earth-centred approach to literary studies,” rather than an anthropomorphic or human-centered approach (p. xviii). Many refer to ecocriticism synonymously as the study of “literature and the environment” (rooted in literary studies) or “environmental criticism” (interdisciplinary and cultural). Ecocriticism has been divided into “waves” to historicize the movement in a clear trajectory ( Buell 2005 , cited under Ecocritical Futures ). The “first wave” of ecocriticism tended to take a dehistoricized approach to “nature,” often overlooking more political and theoretical dimensions and tending toward a celebratory approach of wilderness and nature writing. Ecocriticism expanded into a “second wave,” offering new ways of approaching literary analysis by, for example, theorizing and deconstructing human-centered scholarship in ecostudies; imperialism and ecological degradation; agency for animals and plants; gender and race as ecological concepts; and problems of scale. The “third wave” advocates for a global understanding of ecocritical practice through issues like global warming; it combines elements from the first and second waves but aims to move beyond Anglo-American prominence. There are currently hundreds of books and thousands of articles and chapters written about ecocriticism.

This section looks at some of the pioneering work in ecocriticism, as well as some of the most read work introducing the subject. Meeker 1972 , presenting comedy and tragedy as ecological concepts, connects literary and environmental studies as a cohesive field of study. As an ethnologist and comparative literature scholar, Meeker helped to pioneer the critical discussion of ecocriticism in what he called “literary ecologies.” Following Meeker, Rueckert 1996 (first published 1978) actually coined the term “ecocriticism,” arguing for a way “to find the grounds upon which the two communities—the human, the natural—can coexist, cooperate, and flourish in the biosphere” (p. 107). Love 1996 builds on the work of Meeker and Rueckert by essentially anticipating the explosion of and need for ecocriticism in just a few years. Ecocriticism as a literary and cultural theory significantly expanded in the 1990s—paralleling other forms of literary and cultural theory, such as postcolonialism and critical race studies—largely due to the publication of Glotfelty and Fromm 1996 (cited under Collections of Essays ), the first edited collection of essays and anthology to introduce a comprehensive critical outline of ecocriticism. Buell 1995 , another critically dense and timely study, outlines the trajectory of American ecocriticism by way of Henry David Thoreau as a central figure. Kerridge and Sammells 1998 (cited under Collections of Essays ), which expanded studies in race and class, as well as ecocritical history, followed both Glotfelty and Fromm 1996 and Buell 1995 . Phillips 2003 offers a skeptical and refreshing critique of ecocriticism amid otherwise quite praiseworthy—bordering on mystical—celebrations of “nature” in the scholarship of the 1990s. Garrard 2012 (first published 2004), along with Coupe 2000 (under Anthologies ) and Armbruster and Wallace 2001 (under Nature Writing ), serves as a political and theoretical turn in ecocriticism because it addresses more of the “second wave” concerns about animals, globality, and apocalypse. Clark 2011 is a contemporary overview that integrates a unified critical history of the “waves,” including nature writing, literary periods, theory, and activism, while it also provides sample readings that deploy specific ecocritical methods to literary texts. Garrard 2014 is the most recent overview volume, with many noteworthy ecocritical scholars; it serves as a somewhat updated version of Glotfelty and Fromm 1996 . (See also Anthologies and Collections of Essays for some other notable overviews.)

Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Looks back at the history of American nature writing through literary analysis—with Thoreau’s Walden as a “reference point”—to establish a history of environmental perception and imagination. It examines how humanistic thought, particularly through literary nonfiction, can imagine a more ecocentric or “green” way of living. (See also Nature Writing .)

Clark, Timothy. The Cambridge Introduction to Literature and the Environment . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Provides updated introductory material to previous studies. It offers an excellent range of topics, and despite serving as an introduction, it employs incisive analysis of previously overlooked issues in introductory books on ecocriticism, such as posthumanism, violence, and animal studies. It is one of the best contemporary overviews.

Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism . New York: Routledge, 2012.

Examines a wide range of literary and cultural works. Two notable strengths: (1) it acknowledges the political dimension of ecocriticism; and (2) it explores a range of issues, from animal studies and definitions of “wilderness” and “nature,” to postapocalyptic narratives. It is available as an inexpensive paperback. Originally published in 2004.

Garrard, Greg, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism . New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

One of the most ambitious collections to date, with thirty-four chapters, this book is aimed at both general readers and students, but it also revisits the previous twenty years of ecocriticism to offer contemporary readings from the most prominent names in the field. It is an essential work for ecocritics.

Love, Glen. “Revaluating Nature: Toward an Ecological Criticism.” In The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology . Edited by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, 225–240. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1996.

Argues that literary studies must engage with the environmental crisis rather than remaining unresponsive. This essay advocates for revaluing a nature-focused literature away from an “ego-consciousness” to an “eco-consciousness” (p. 232). Originally published in 1990. See also Love’s Practical Ecocriticism: Literature, Biology, and the Environment (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003).

Meeker, Joseph. The Comedy of Survival: Studies in Literary Ecology . New York: Scribner’s, 1972.

One of the founding works of ecocriticism. It spans many centuries—looking at Dante, Shakespeare, and Petrarch, as well as E. O. Wilson—and analyzes comedy and tragedy as two literary forms that reflect forces greater than that of humans. The “comedy of survival” is at its core an ecological concept.

Phillips, Dana. The Truth of Ecology: Nature, Culture, and Literature in America . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195137699.001.0001

One of the more prominent critiques of ecocritical theory, this book challenges neo-Romantic themes explored by ecocritics, many of which Phillips argues support the use of mimesis as a standard way to read environments, instead of looking at more pragmatic approaches.

Rueckert, William. “Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism.” In The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology . Edited by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, 105–123. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1996.

Notable primarily because it was the first publication to use the term “ecocriticism” as an environmentally minded literary analysis that discovers “something about the ecology of literature” (p. 71). Originally published in 1978.

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Exploring Nature Writing: Examples and Tips for Writing About the Wild

by Kaelyn Barron | 1 comment

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While many of our favorite stories describe epic adventures in the great outdoors, nature writing—writing about nature itself—has evolved as a genre in its own right.

This unique genre can inspire curiosity and awe in both its readers and writers, especially in an age characterized by digital screens and virtual experiences.

What Is Nature Writing?

The exact definition of nature writing can be hard to pinpoint. If you ask Wikipedia, it’s “nonfiction or fiction prose or poetry about the natural environment.” So, pretty much anything that describes rolling hills or migrating butterflies goes, right?

Actually, most works that are considered “nature writing” today can best be classified as creative nonfiction . In Beyond Nature Writing , ecocritic and writer Michael P. Branch explains that the term “has usually been reserved for a brand of nature representation that is deemed literary, written in the speculative personal voice, and presented in the form of the nonfiction essay.”

The genre can be traced back to the 18th century, with many regarding English naturalist Gilbert White’s Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne one of the earliest examples.

Some observers have noted that we’re currently experiencing a “ golden age of nature writing ,” as digital fatigue and a suffering environment have piqued an interest in the natural world and all its wonders.

Examples of Nature Writing

This renaissance has produced a wave of outstanding nature-centered writings that are soon to become classics. Here are 3 examples:

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Indigenous scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer illustrates how other living creatures—from sweetgrass to salamanders—can provide us with priceless gifts and lessons in what has been acclaimed as a “Best Essay Collection of the Decade.”

Her reflections all circle back to one central argument: that in order to awaken ecological consciousness, we must “acknowledge and celebrate our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world.” Kimmerer brilliant descriptions capture the beauty of our world will surely stay with you long after you’ve read the last page.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

This series of autobiographical essays draws on moments and memories from the author’s life and relationships, exploring themes of uncertainty, trust, loss, desire, and place. Solnit examines the stories we use to navigate our way through the world, from wilderness to cities.

In one anecdote, she ponders the fate of tortoises, reflecting on a memory of riding one at a zoo, while contemplating their (and our) disintegrating environment.

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

H Is for Hawk has been featured on more than 25 “Best Books of the Year” lists, including Time, NPR, and Vogue. It tells the story of how Macdonald spent 800 British pounds on a goshawk in a moment of grief after her father’s death, then tried to train it.

We see how the goshawk’s temperament mirrors the author’s state of grief, as together they “discover the pain and beauty of being alive.”

What Is the Purpose of Nature Writing?

Nature is full of inspiration, and as such, it can easily serve as a muse for writers. In nature, we might find metaphors for our own human experiences that we never considered before.

For example, in literature, rivers are often regarded as symbols of life and the passage of time: the source of rivers (small mountain streams) represents the beginnings of life, and its meeting with the ocean represents the end of life. And, like life itself, it continues to push on in an endless cycle, no matter what happens.

Thus, writing (and reading) about nature allows us space to reflect on life and the many ways it mirrors our own human experiences.

Over the last century, nature writing has also become a means of advocacy for the environment by calling attention to environmental issues and trying to inspire a greater interest in nature.

How to Practice Nature Writing

Nature writing has grown in popularity as a genre in recent years, but writing about nature in general can also be a great creative exercise, as it encourages you to observe details and put those observations into words.

You can use these tips to practice nature writing:

1. Always keep a notebook handy.

The first thing you want to do is ensure that you always have a notebook and pen handy to jot down your ideas and observations, no matter where you are.

Pocket notebooks easily fit into backpacks, handbags, and yes, even most pockets!

Don’t assume that you can just write everything down when you get home. Many subtle details and nuances can be lost, even just hours later, if you don’t record them there in the moment.

2. Observe.

When you’re spending time in nature, don’t worry about brainstorming the most poetic way to describe the falling leaves; you can always refine your writing later.

For now, just focus on recording your own feelings and observations. Let your thoughts flow freely onto the paper, without pausing to self-edit or worry about proper spelling and punctuation.

3. Focus on sensory details.

As with nearly all types of writing, nature writing is always better when you focus on showing, not telling . This means using sensory details to describe your surroundings and experiences.

However, be careful to avoid cliches . Find your own ways to describe the nature around you, rather than recycling the same tired similes and metaphors that have been written a million times.

4. Make connections.

Yes, nature writing means a lot of writing about nature, but that doesn’t mean your topics of discussion are limited to the sound of the wind and birds chirping.

If you find that certain memories or thoughts come up while you’re spending time in nature, write those down too. This can help you practice building connections, which will enrich your writing and help you convey larger themes .

What about nature inspires you to write? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:

Kaelyn Barron

As a blog writer for TCK Publishing, Kaelyn loves crafting fun and helpful content for writers, readers, and creative minds alike. She has a degree in International Affairs with a minor in Italian Studies, but her true passion has always been writing. Working remotely allows her to do even more of the things she loves, like traveling, cooking, and spending time with her family.

M. Chandler

I’m writing a paper about dominant trends in nature writing and want to ask a few questions, interview or email or just read anything you might want to share. THank you

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Nature Writing in American Literature: Seminal and Noteworthy Books of Nonfiction

Humanities and child development librarian.

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Below are two bibliographies of nature writing.  Annotations attempt to convey the literary strengths of these books and to illustrate how certain literary styles and choices represent nature, and our relationship with nature, in unique ways.  Their effectiveness in reconceptualizing our view of the natural world is one significant reason these books remain so important in the tradition of nature writing.  An argument can be made that these books have influenced the development and direction of the genre.

The books selected for these bibliographies are monographs, whole works, rather than anthologies.  Forms of writing represented include diaries and memoirs, travel writing, personal essays, and literary journalism.   Dates of publication range from the late colonial period to the present.

If you wish to see if the CSUS University Library has a particular book, go to OneSearch and do either a title search for the book or an author search by typing the author's last name first followed by the first name.  Narrow your search to Library Catalog.

These bibliographies were created and compiled  by Maria Kochis. They were first published in this LibGuide in 4/13.

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13 Literary Journals that Focus on Nature and the Environment

Most literary journals, unless they have a very focused mission, or are genre journals, are open to publishing poems, prose, and nonfiction featuring nature. Most writers that focus on the natural world do not have an issue finding homes for their work in general interest literary journals.

Still, there are a number of journals that focus on publishing writing that focuses on the environment.

It’s important to note that most journals that only publish poems that focus on the natural world are currently preoccupied with ecopoetics , which, according to the Poetry Foundation, is a “multidisciplinary approach that includes thinking and writing on poetics, science, and theory as well as emphasizing innovative approaches common to conceptual poetry”.

Of course there is overlap between the ecopoetics and nature poetry, just like there’s an overlap between journals that publish nature writing and those that focus on environmental change. Below I’ve collected a list of journals that publish one or both.

Not all of the journals are currently open to submissions but the majority of the journals are.

The Hopper Magazine

This is an environmental literary journal published by Green Writers Press. The Hopper looks for a number of very specific things in the writing they publish, which includes poetry and prose, including work that “Offers new and different articulations of the human experience in nature. Specifically, nature writing that is psychologically honest about the environmental crisis and the impacts of mechanical modernity” and work that “Explores place as both the cultural and physical landscapes of an author’s region.” Read their full submission guidelines with care.

This wonderful online journals focus is on how place shapes identity, imagination, and understanding. A lot of what they publish focuses on nature, but not all of it.

This respected and well paying journal publishes fiction, essays, and poetry, about the Pacific Northwest but only by authors based in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia.

Minding Nature

This journal publishes a wide variety of work on humans’ interactions with the environment as a whole, including works of ecopoetics.

A literary journal focused on re-imagining place. They publish prose and poetry. They charge for online submissions, but postal submissions within the US are fee-free.

Orion Magazine

Orion Magazine brings ideas, writers, photographers, and artists together, focused on nature, the environment, and culture, addressing environmental and societal issues. They generally have an additional theme for most issues. They are only open for pitches on a theme till October 15th, and are not currently open to fiction, general nonfiction, or poetry.

Hawk & Handsaw: The Journal of Creative Sustainability

Focused more on the environmental and sustainable side of things, Hawk & Handsaw publishes visual art, poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction.

Green Briar Review

An online literary journey that focuses on the natural world, and often on the changing of the seasons, they publish nonfiction, cultural essays, reviews, fiction, and poetry, and photography/art. They read a limited number of fee-free submissions during their reading periods.

Split Rock Review

They are an online publication that publishes “poetry, short creative nonfiction, short fiction, comics, graphic stories, hybrids, visual poetry, photography, and art that explore place, environment, and the relationship between humans and the natural world”. They read a limited number of fee-free submissions during their reading periods.

They bill themselves as the literary journal of the environmental crisis. They publish poetry and essays.

Words for the Wild

This UK-based publisher of poetry and fiction often has an additional theme for online issues and anthologies, some focus more on ecopoetics, others more on nature.

Terrain An online journal that publishes fiction, poetry, and a variety of nonfiction, focusing on nature and the environment.

The Wayfarer

They focus on publishing contemplative voices. Not all that they publish focuses on nature and the environment, but much of what they publish, does intersect with these themes. They publish poetry and essays.

Emily Harstone  is the author of many popular books, including  The Authors Publish Guide to Manuscript Submissions ,  Submit, Publish, Repeat , and   The 2020 Guide to Manuscript Publishers.

She regularly teaches three acclaimed courses on writing and publishing at  The Writer’s Workshop at Authors Publish.

You can follow her on Facebook  here .

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11 Women Who Have Changed The Way We See The Natural World

From Dorothy Wordsworth's early 19th-century journals to Carolyn Finney's interrogation of "wilderness is whiteness" — these women changed the nature writing game.

Kathryn Aalto

BuzzFeed Contributor

Two hundred years ago , men chaperoned women outdoors. Women avoided using the word “I” in writing for fear of being labeled an egotist or a “scribbling dame”; many of the women who have written about the natural world did not get credit, wrote anonymously, or were maligned for being female. Things have changed in the white- and male-dominated publishing industry, though not for all of us — yet.

In my newest book, Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World , I wanted to illuminate and recenter the diverse naturalist voices of women across time. In essays that mix memoir, travelogue, and cultural critique, I walk readers through the landscapes, lives, and literature of 25 classic, new, and overlooked nature writers who kicked down "No Trespassing" signs and made new paths. I begin with the long-deceased Dorothy Wordsworth, Susan Fenimore Cooper, and Gene Stratton-Porter, and end 200 years later with Camille Dungy, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Amy Liptrot. In between, we meet remarkable trailblazers. Here are 11 of them.

The Grasmere Journals by Dorothy Wordsworth (1771–1855)

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Few landscapes are as steeped in literary history as that seen from Scafell Pike, England’s tallest mountain, and one of the world's most rapturous stages. Dorothy Wordsworth — a diarist, letter writer, mountaineer, and walker — was one of the first women to climb it and write about it. In 1818, she summited with a shepherd guide and friend. Women then had to be chaperoned by men to shield them from “reputational anxiety.” Dorothy insisted on midnight walks under the moonlight; she walked fast. She walked with her older brother, William Wordsworth, who wrote one of the most famous poems in the English language, “Daffodils.” He "borrowed" several lines in this poem from Dorothy’s Grasmere Journals . William also used her essay about climbing Scafell Pike in his book on walking in the lakes, also without crediting her, so it appeared that he did it. Would she have minded? I am not sure. But we can mind for her.

What I Have Done With Birds by Gene Stratton-Porter (1863–1924)

nature writing literature

Gene Stratton-Porter was a gun-toting, trouser-wearing maverick whose 28 books sold more than 50 million copies in her lifetime. She wrote internationally famous romance novels, nature studies, poetry collections, and children’s books — and 23 were made into films by Gene Stratton-Porter Productions, one of the first film production studios owned by a woman in Hollywood. Set in the Limberlost, a 13,000-acre swamp and hardwood forest in Indiana before it was harvested and drained for cultivating corn and soybeans, some of her most famous books include Freckles (1904), a coming-of-age story of love, bravery, and devotion; and A Girl of the Limberlost (1909), about a self-reliant teenager who funds her own education by collecting moths from the swamps near her home.

In What I Have Done With Birds (1907) and Moths of the Limberlost (1913), Gene's research methods and photography cut a portrait of a writer who understood the urgency of what was happening in real time to native habitats. She was the first photographer, male or female, to capture live birds in their native habitats rather than shoot, stuff, and pose them, as men had done. She used her fame to campaign against the draining of wetlands and the widespread killing of songbirds to supply feathers in women’s fanciful hats.

The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin (1868–1934)

nature writing literature

Most mountains in the United States are named for European male geologists, surveyors, and military officers who measured, climbed, and claimed them. There is a rare exception in the southern Sierras of California, a mountain that stands 13,057 feet tall. It is Mount Mary Austin, named after maverick ethnographer and feminist, activist and mystic, speaker and writer Mary Hunter Austin. Austin’s debut book, The Land of Little Rain (1903), is a collection of 14 vivid and meditative essays detailing the landscape and diverse inhabitants of the Owens River Valley before it was drained of water for the city of Los Angeles — a conflict known as the California water wars made famous in the classic film Chinatown . Austin’s early defense of Spanish Americans and Native Americans and their right to their land and livelihoods set her apart from other Western writers who saw these people as impediments to “progress.”

Further reading: Earth Horizon (1932), Austin's autobiography; Beyond Borders: The Selected Essays of Mary Austin (1996).

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1907–1964)

nature writing literature

In language anyone could understand, biologist Rachel Carson explained in her 1962 history-making bestseller Silent Spring how the profligate use of synthetic chemical pesticides, especially DDT, after World War II upset the delicate balance of ecosystems. Nobody really understood the links between toxicity and pesticides before Carson’s book — not the government, scientists, and certainly not the public. The chemical industry attacked her as “hysterical,” and the Department of Agriculture refused to talk to her. As protectors of future generations, mothers and homemakers did listen to her lyrical and scientifically informed books. The general public listened to her. Silent Spring is now considered one of the most important environmental books ever written. It led to the establishment of the EPA and is credited with birthing the modern environmental movement in the US.

Further reading: The Sea Around Us (1951), an extensive scientific and poetic study of the world's oceans.

Dream Work by Mary Oliver (1935–2019)

nature writing literature

Cape Cod is a hook-shaped apostrophe of dune beaches and marshes, tide pools and lighthouses punctuating the North Atlantic. Sculpted by waves, wind, and winter storms, this eastern outpost is the place Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Mary Oliver once called home. In the weather-beaten landscape, she wrote prose and poetry and was inspired by the world around her. I spent a weekend in Provincetown walking in Oliver’s footsteps to see what inspired her. Wonder is at the heart of all her writing — a fusion of mystery, prayer, and presence. Acceptance is too. She offers comfort by blurring boundaries between ourselves and the natural world. Her work spans from 1963 to 2017, and I would recommend Dream Work (1986) and Upstream: Selected Essays (2016). She ends her famous poem “The Summer Day,” with the question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”

Further reading: 15 Beautiful Lines Written By Mary Oliver

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

nature writing literature

Storytelling is a form of mapping: It connects the self to the self, people to people, and people to places over time. Stories live on long after we do. For Indigenous people, oral storytelling roots them in landscapes over millennia — not just a couple of casual generations — and stories are far more than yarns told over a fire: They are profound narratives of identity. In her masterpiece Ceremony (1977), Leslie Marmon Silko distinguished herself as the world’s first woman Native American novelist. The book tells the story of Tayo, a white and Laguna Pueblo military veteran trying to regain his peace of mind and place while dealing with PTSD. Told in a brilliantly fractured narrative split between prose and poetry, myth and memories, past and present, Ceremony tells the story of how old ways of knowing our physical world can be healing and therapeutic.

Further reading: Storyteller (1981), a compilation of old photographs, tribal tales, poetry, and songs; Almanac of the Dead (1991), a geographical novel that revises European colonial history in America.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

nature writing literature

A professor of environmental and forest biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Robin Wall Kimmerer is also a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She writes essays for nature and culture journals such as Orion; her award-winning books include Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses (2003) , which won the prestigious John Burroughs Medal for nature writing, and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants (2013), which won the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award. Braiding Sweetgrass begins with an invitation to the reader: “Hold out your hands and let me lay upon them a sheaf of freshly picked sweetgrass, loose and flowing, like newly washed hair.” It is a metaphor for the book's five unfolding sections in which Kimmerer shares stories of encounters with and knowledge of plants as a mother, botanist, tribal citizen, and teacher.

Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape by Lauret Savoy

nature writing literature

In 1968, Lauret Savoy moved with her family from California to Washington, DC. She told me about that pivotal time over the phone: "We arrived in time to experience the riots. That was when I, as a small child, learned about racism. I was spat upon and hated. I needed to learn who I was then. That initial learning began in a struggle to answer or come to terms with questions that started to haunt me about origins, about who I was and who we were and what the American land was."

Now a professor of environmental studies and geology at Mount Holyoke College, Savoy has a doctorate in geology that helps her see patterns and fragments, gaps and traces in her winding search for her own history and a larger history of America. Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape (2015) blends memoir, history, and the landscape to uncover hidden legacies. It will create seismic shifts in readers' perspectives on race, gender, and nature.

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

nature writing literature

H is for Hawk (2014) by British writer Helen Macdonald is a masterpiece of literary nonfiction that braids memoir, literary biography, and a falconer’s diary into a beautiful example of nature writing. The book became an international bestseller and an instant classic, showered with accolades and awards. While her book is filled with one vivid and beautiful sentence after another — “Vast flocks of fieldfares netted the sky, turning it to something strangely like sixteenth-century sleeve sewn with pearls” — she also does something different in nature writing: She dares to be dark and she dares to be funny in a genre often characterized as reverential and humorless.

Further reading: Shaler's Fish (2001), Macdonald's undergraduate collection of poetry; Falcon (2006), an exploration of the history of falconry; Vesper Flights (2020), a forthcoming collection of selected essays.

Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors by Carolyn Finney

nature writing literature

Nature writing has historically been characterized by works written by white men — an idea that conveys that writing about nature and the environment has been the domain of a certain gender, class, and race. Writer, performer, and cultural geographer Carolyn Finney explores why Black Americans have been marginalized in the outdoors and the environmental movement in her important book, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors (2014) . A mix of memoir, scholarship, and history, the book traces the environmental legacy of slavery, racial violence, and Jim Crow segregation while celebrating contributions Black Americans have made to the environment. In this vital moment of change and dialogue spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement , this book is more important than ever, and it will fracture and deepen your understanding of issues of perception, representation, and access. Who has concern for the outdoors? Who recreates in American forests and parks? Who constructs stories and media stereotypes that perpetuate the "wilderness is whiteness" idea?

Rising: Dispatches From the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush

nature writing literature

In Rising: Dispatches From the New American Shore (2018), Elizabeth Rush strides across shorelines, gathering stories about rising sea levels transforming coastal communities. Her work does something that other superb science writing on climate change does not: It brings a poetic feeling and personal narrative to the subject. Her warm and informed presence is felt throughout Rising — a reminder that now more than ever we need the storytelling skills of nature writers to engage people and change policies given these pressing environmental times.

nature writing literature

Adapted from Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World by Kathryn Aalto, with permission from the publisher, Timber Press.

Kathryn Aalto is an American landscape designer, historian, writer, and lecturer living in Exeter, England. She has master’s degrees in garden history and creative nonfiction with a particular interest in literary landscapes. Before her expat life, she taught American literature of nature and place in the Pacific Northwest. She is a member of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, and Garden Communicators International.


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  1. Nature writing - Wikipedia

    Nature writing is nonfiction or fiction prose or poetry about the natural environment. Nature writing encompasses a wide variety of works, ranging from those that place primary emphasis on natural history facts (such as field guides) to those in which philosophical interpretation predominate.

  2. American Nature Writing | Oxford Research Encyclopedia of ...

    Nature has, like love, been an essential topic for authors in every language and every literary form. The first thing to acknowledge about the term nature writing is that it conventionally refers to a distinctive category of nonfiction, not to the entire spectrum of literature about the natural world. The present survey is further restricted to ...

  3. Ecocriticism - Literary and Critical Theory - Oxford ...

    The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. Looks back at the history of American nature writing through literary analysis—with Thoreau’s Walden as a “reference point”—to establish a history of environmental perception and imagination. It ...

  4. Exploring Nature Writing: Examples and Tips for Writing About ...

    Nature writing has grown in popularity as a genre in recent years, but writing about nature in general can also be a great creative exercise, as it encourages you to observe details and put those observations into words. You can use these tips to practice nature writing: 1. Always keep a notebook handy.

  5. Nature Writing ‹ Story Types ‹ Literary Hub

    Nature Writing is Survival Writing: On Rethinking a Genre By Michelle Nijhuis April 12, 2022 Nature Writing How Rachel Carson Carved Out a Space to Become a Full-Time Writer By James R. Gaines February 9, 2022 Nature Writing Secrets of the Sea: On the Hidden Past of Orford Ness and the Residue of Human Destruction By Polly Crosby December 9, 2021

  6. Nature Writing Books - Goodreads

    Nature Writing Books. Showing 1-50 of 4,858. H is for Hawk (Hardcover) by. Helen Macdonald. (shelved 120 times as nature-writing) avg rating 3.74 — 70,499 ratings — published 2014. Want to Read. Rate this book.

  7. Home - Nature Writing in American Literature: Seminal and ...

    Forms of writing represented include diaries and memoirs, travel writing, personal essays, and literary journalism. Dates of publication range from the late colonial period to the present. If you wish to see if the CSUS University Library has a particular book, go to OneSearch and do either a title search for the book or an author search by ...

  8. 13 Literary Journals that Focus on Nature and the Environment

    Most literary journals, unless they have a very focused mission, or are genre journals, are open to publishing poems, prose, and nonfiction featuring nature. Most writers that focus on the natural world do not have an issue finding homes for their work in general interest literary journals.

  9. 11 Women Who Have Changed The Way We See The Natural World

    Nature writing has historically been characterized by works written by white men — an idea that conveys that writing about nature and the environment has been the domain of a certain gender, class, and race.