EWP 490 Contemporary Nature Literature

In this course, we'll be reading contemporary nature literature, focusing primarily on authors and movements after Rachel Carson. We’ll relate that literature to current events, to history, to western culture, to religion and politics, to pop culture, to the environmental movement, to media representations of nature, to other texts, and to our own life experiences.

We will be especially looking at emerging voices – ecofeminists, native writers, science writers, animal rights activists, deep ecologists, and other perspectives that differ from the mainstream. We will be applying ecocriticism, a type of literary criticism that approaches literature from an ecological perspective.

Books for the course

Literature and the Environment
edited by Lorraine Anderson, Scott Slovic, and John P. O’Grady.
Make sure you get the SECOND EDITION. It should look like this:


Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer. A series of personal essays that tells the stories of moss through both science and indigenous ways of knowing.

The Word For World is Forest by Ursula LeGuin. A science fiction book that the movie Avatar was loosely based on.

The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer. A novel about a decorative hermit who lives on a rich man's estate.

In addition we'll be using online resources such as Orion Magazine and XKCD. Be sure to check this blog for links to assignments.

Short papers

This course is designed to get you in the habit of setting aside time every week for reading. You'll be assigned readings twice each week, and I expect a written response to these readings. These response pieces are a good part of the writing you will be doing for the course. They should show that you are engaging with the readings and the class discussions. Please take them seriously.

Think of these short papers as a way to add to the conversation we will be having in the classroom. You'll be sharing them with your classmates.

Your response could include:
Questions for class discussion
Your opinion on a topic the writer brought up
A summary of what you read
Observations about what you read
What you thought about the poem or story or essay
A piece of creative writing inspired by what you read
A list of topics you think the piece covered
Questions you might have for the author
An interesting tangent inspired by the piece
Something you researched about the author

You could:
Share a relevant experience from your life
Share relevant information from other ESF courses
Share insights you had while reading
Connect what you read to a topic we discussed in class
Go off on a worthwhile tangent
Ask questions about things you didn't understand in the reading
Critique the text
Analyze some part of the text that seemed interesting
Relate the reading to current events
Relate the reading to environmental issues

Most of the time your response will be a full page of writing, done on a computer. (Single-space the lines, but double-space between paragraphs.) But not always. Your response might be a drawing or a photograph.

Official learning outcomes

After completing this course, the student should be able to:

1. Identify and discuss works of contemporary and twentieth century American nature literature in which nature is not merely the setting, background, or casual reference point but a central subject.
2. Define ecocriticism and apply that method of literary analysis to a work of contemporary nature literature.
3. Recognize and appreciate the differences between new and traditional media in the production of literary texts.
4. Demonstrate knowledge of different literary elements and the creative process used by regional writers who explore environmental issues.
5. Analyze several forms of written expression (poem, novel, autobiography, short story, memoir, essay) and the ways in which these genres explore the relationship between nature and culture.
6. Examine the factors that shape our thoughts and actions towards nature, and what role text plays in that process.
7. Apply knowledge of the hard sciences and social sciences to the literary analysis of texts, looking at topics such as land use management, policy, ecology, resource distribution, and geology.
8. Use their own writing to summarize, paraphrase, analyze, critique, or respond to a text.
9. Present their ideas, including summary, interpretation, and critique of written texts, orally.

Official policies and such

You are expected to attend all classes unless you are desperately sick. Most professors will understand if you miss one or two classes over the course of a whole semester, but you would be wise not to miss no more than that. If you are desperately sick and need to stay in bed, please talk to one of your classmates to find out what you missed. Or check this blog. Any student who misses more than two classes will be required to have a conference with the teacher.

Participating in class means more than merely showing up for class. It means coming to class awake, well-rested, and prepared.

Plagiarism is a serious offense and will be treated as such on the ESF campus. The Council of Writing Program Administrators offers this definition for plagiarism: "In an instructional setting, plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common‐knowledge) material without acknowledging its source."   A failure to acknowledge and properly cite your sources can look like plagiarism. It’s essential for you to think about your sources, evaluate whether or not the sources are credible, and document where you are getting your information from at every step of the process.

The Writing Center
Experienced consultants are trained to work with you one-on-one during all stages of your writing projects. Consultants are usually not available for drop in hours; time slots fill quickly, especially during peak times in the semester. Sign up in advance on the schedule located in the basement of Moon Library (look for the green sign) for a 30 or 50-minute weekday, weeknight, or weekend session in the Center. This is a free resource to all students and recommended for all writing assignments in this class.

Academic Accommodations 
Students wishing to utilize academic accommodations due to a diagnosed disability of any kind must present an Academic Accommodations Authorization Letter generated by Syracuse University’s Office of Disability Services. If you currently have an Authorization Letter, please present this to your teachers as soon as possible so that they may assist with the establishment of your accommodations. Students who do not have a current Academic Accommodations Authorization Letter from Syracuse University’s Office of Disability Services cannot receive accommodations. If you do not currently have an Authorization Letter and feel you are eligible for accommodations, please contact Heather Rice in the Office of Counseling and Disabilities Services, 110 Bray Hall, (315) 470-6660 or counseling@esf.edu as soon as possible.

Grading Rubric

Portfolios will be graded on your ability to demonstrate critical reading and critical thinking skills; the quality of your writing and ideas; and your ability to demonstrate you have achieved the learning objectives of the course. 

“C” grade: Written work demonstrates that the student has done the reading and made a strong attempt to understand and engage with the literature. Student demonstrates ability to summarize, describe, and paraphrase texts, but fails to integrate upper level thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Student presents some good ideas, but fails to develop them fully.

“B” grade: Written work demonstrates thoughtful engagement with the assigned texts. The student shares insightful comments that show a clear understanding of the material. Student is able to discuss literature within the context of cultural analysis. The writing shows moments of upper level thinking, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The writing is clear, concise, and mostly free of errors.

“A” grade: Short papers are clear, focused, and coherent. The writing is polished, free of errors, and sophisticated. The content demonstrates a clear understanding of the learning outcomes of the course and reflects an in-depth engagement with literature. The writing demonstrates upper level thinking (analysis, synthesis, evaluation) and a thoughtful approach to the content. The student offers new insights, makes perceptive points, and makes connections between the text and the dominant culture. Student is able to link ideas in literature to concepts in other disciplines. Student demonstrates ability to integrate concepts, ideas, and principles. The writing shows a breadth and depth of understanding.

“D” grade: Writing demonstrates no upper level thinking (analysis, synthesis, or evaluation) and illustrates a superficial approach to the text. Student shows no sign of growth in thinking. Writing is not clear, concise, or coherent. Writing contains errors in standard written English that interfere with understanding.

“F” grade: Papers missing or incomplete. Student shows little evidence of engagement with literature and has little to contribute to class discussion. Student shows little understanding of the assigned texts and does not demonstrate any grasp of the learning outcomes for the course.

Living in a petroleum dream

 Music and lyrics by Sarah, Robin, Paul, and Patty.