Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Writing Nature: Presentation and Workshop Samples


The Dangers of Hugging Trees (C)

Rick Bass

A comparison of differences and similarities between ecologically-oriented creative nonfiction and general fiction. How close to the environment can an author, and by extension an author’s characters, go in each without fracturing a reader's innate (as well as well-earned) sense of distrust?

We’ll discuss challenges and rewards in the abstract, then follow up with specific examples. Please bring for discussion (or e-mail me beforehand) your own examples of the work of others (fiction or nonfiction) where the borderline is neared and where a piece succeeds or fails, because of that.

Required Reading:

Larry Brown, Joe

Suggested Reading:

Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

Robert Penn Warren, All The King’s Men

Eudora Welty, “Notes From River Country”

Edward Abbey, “The Monkey Wrench Gang”

Nature in the Body: Cross-Genre Experiential Nature-Writing (C, CC)

Cait Johnson

Our unique sensual perception is part of our gift as writers: the specificity of our personal connection with the natural world can produce writing that is both vivid and immediate. But first we have to feel, to open our senses and inhabit the natural world deeply. This presentation will give us tools to do just that. Nourished by examples from a variety of authors—including Dickinson and Marquez, as well as Rita Dove, Terry Tempest Williams, Ursula Le Guin, Toni Morrison, Pablo Neruda, and Barry Lopez—and guided by genre-specific questions, we’ll venture outdoors together to slow down and pay attention, exploring our sensual perception as the key to unlocking a trove of connections and valuable sense memories. Then we’ll come back inside to discuss the most compelling, truthful ways to commit our experiences to paper. Please bring at least one paragraph of nature-inspired writing from a favorite author to share.

Required Reading: 

Mark Doty, The Art of Description

Handout packets will be provided in class, with quotes from the authors listed above (and others), along with questions for each genre to ponder outdoors.

Omen-Gathering and Other Ways to Find Inspiration in Nature (C, CC)

Cait Johnson

The natural world offers a vast ground of inspiration for our writing, but most of us are so busy whizzing around at breakneck speed or sitting for hours in front of our computers that we could use a little help reconnecting with it. This hands-on presentation offers techniques for slowing down, opening up, and paying real attention to nature. Any time we give mindful attention to something—whether it’s a blade of grass or a vista of sand and sea—something worthwhile is revealed, and since we see through a unique filter, what we notice always tells us something about who we are. The resulting information is writers’ gold.

Together, we’ll practice the ancient Celtic art of omen-gathering, finding a personal message of guidance for our current project. We’ll spend a few moments of what Joanna Macy calls “Deep Time,” gathering an object from nature and discovering its significance for our writing process. We’ll also explore methods of keeping a nature journal and other exercises for infusing our nature-writing with more immediacy and intensity of expression.

Required Reading:

Christian McEwen and Mark Statman, editors, The Alphabet of the Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing

Suggested Reading:

Lorraine Anderson, Sisters of the Earth: Women’s Prose and Poetry about the Earth

Mark Coleman, Awake in the Wild: Mindfulness in Nature as a Path of Self-Discovery

Tom Cowan, Shamanism as a Spiritual Practice for Daily Life

Mark Tredinnick, ed., The Land’s Wild Music: Encounters with Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Terry Tempest Williams, and James Galvin