Studies in Writing: Eco-Literature

English 4040/7040
Section 1
Aliki Barnstone
Strickland 223

This course on reading and writing eco-literature is designed to be interdisciplinary and to bring together students in all fields: from English and Journalism to History, the Social Sciences, the Law, and Public Policy to the Health Sciences and STEM fields. Because everyone has something important to bring to the table, I plan to open up our discussion, to encourage student generated topics, depending on your interests and expertise. We will discuss multiple aspects of the environment: climate refugees, war and peace, the dire health impacts in urban areas, such as Flint and Newark, the roles that gender, race, ethnicity, and creed play, reproductive health and freedom, children’s rights, the psychological and emotional stress associated with climate change, dystopian solutions (such as eco-fascism), utopian possibilities for a green future, and much more. We will focus on writing short-form nonfiction pieces that are 200-250 words. These shorter pieces will be the building blocks of a longer final project, which can be a collection of short pieces, a longer essay, or a multimedia piece. Our main texts will be Thinking Continental: Writing the Planet One Place at a Time, edited by Tom Lynch, Susan Naramore Maher, Drucilla Wall, & O. Alan Weltzien and The Rose Metal Field Guide to Writing Flash Non-Fiction. These texts will be supplemented with nature poems, essays, stories, and news articles that deal with the environment, particularly with climate change.

We will focus on coming to terms with what I have come to call “climate chaos consciousness,” which millennials and Generation Z articulate and act upon in profound and urgent ways. My role, as I see it, is to draw you out, help you see how much you already know, and facilitate your making discoveries by employing playfulness, experimentation, and frequent writing practice. While playfulness may seem a counter-intuitive strategy, play opens the way to courageous exploration of the depths of the psyche. I will guide you in strategies to generate writing through games, prompts, and journaling. Visits to the Missouri State Historical Society and Ellis Library’s Special Collections and Rare Books will give us a historical perspective on environmental literature and nature writing.

Writing assignments include a reading and writing journal, micro-essays and reflections for the first 9 weeks, and a final project which can be a collection of your essays, a longer essay (personal, lyrical, journalistic, a research paper), or a multimedia piece with accompanying writing—a photo essay, a short video, or—with my approval—any project that you propose (with my approval). Classroom time will combine discussion of the reading and environment and workshopping your micro-essays. This is a hybrid course: for first 10 weeks of this course I will be in-residence and we will meet in the classroom; the last 5 weeks I will work with you remotely individually and in small groups.