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Writing Nature Now: Literature and the Environment in the 21st Century

ENGL 494.640
Wednesday 6:00-8:40

The relationship between the natural world and the writers who engage it has changed dramatically since Henry David Thoreau first took up residence at Walden Pond in the 1840s. That Romantic age knew little of genetically-modified crops, fracking, hypoxic waterways, climate change, or the great oceanic garbage patches. This course explores the current state of American nature writing downstream from its headwaters in Transcendentalist writing. Turning to contemporary fiction, journalism, poetry, and essays, we will take stock of what has changed since Thoreau "went to the woods to live deliberately," exploring our society's changed relationships with and shifting definitions of nature. To do this, we'll examine various post-Romantic literary modes, asking to what extent our society's various ecological discourses – from smart-growth to apocalypticism to climate science to lament -- represent new species of nature writing, or simply the evolution of Transcendental literary forms to respond to the 21st century environmental crisis.