HC 221H: Eco Literature and the Green Imagination

Professor: Barbara Mossberg

4.00 credits

  • CRN 26158: Monday & Wednesday, 1015-1145 @ REMOTE

Is the green imagination intrinsic to being human? Since Gilgamesh scratched it on clay in cuneiform in 2700 BCE, eco literature has been a dynamic portrait of human engagement and concern with our world. Homer made it epic, Wordsworth gave us our words’ worth, Thoreau thought it:  we consider in what ways literature from everywhere on the globe, since the time of oral and written records, is and has always been “eco” literature—a way of expressing our common and uncommon experience of living on earth.Whether expressed in joy, gratitude, anger, or sorrow, what is at stake in how we represent earth and understand our relation to it? Our class takes up writing that turns our heads upwards, brings us to our knees, inspires us to climb and leap, make and break laws, save savannahs, wage war and peace, fight for civil rights, declare love, and try to preserve our earth. In the study of literature of our environment, we marvel at the fanged, the fierce, the lofty, the flowing. We rejoice at weeds and spiders. We ponder icons of the environmental movement, including Humboldt, Emerson, Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, and Wendell Berry, and the poetry of Wordsworth, Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Cullen Bryant, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Bishop, Joyce Kilmer, and Pablo Neruda, and contemporaries such as Lucille Clifton, Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder, W.S. Merwin, William Stafford, Alicia Ostriker, Louise Gluck, Mark Doty, Story Musgrave, Barbara Kingsolver, John McPhee, Terry Tempest Williams, Scott Sanders, and others. We’ll read our own local eco writers, including Oregon’s own former Poet Laureate Kim Stafford, John Witte, Dorian Laux, and Deb Casey—as well as such iconic figures as Joaquin Miller and Woody Guthrie, Edward Abbey and Douglas Adams.

We’ll also consider iconic American and Nobel-prize literature in terms of an intrinsic eco consciousness and purpose (Scott Fitzgerald, Arthur Miller, John Steinbeck, Ken Kesey, Sandra Cisneros, Alice Walker). We’ll note how leaders of countries (such as Charles, Prince of Wales, Wangari Maathai of Kenya) and organizations (such as Humane Society’s Wayne Pacelle, Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard), and the Supreme Court (William O. Douglas) write about the environment. We take a gander at ancient and classic foundations of eco literature as we consider how we present our world to our children, from Goodnight, Moon, and Pat the Bunny, to The Snowy Day, The Paper-Flower Tree, Bertolt, Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth, The Blue Songbird, On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, I Love You Like a Pig, and works of Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and E.B. White. And we’ll break our hearts a little (okay, a lot), with Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, and Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. And on the note of empathy, we’ll look at our future in terms of your own discoveries and work in eco literary imagination and conscience. You’ll share what you find—and all weeping and pondering aside, we’ll end our course on a high note, with your own tree-mendous poet-tree slam.TM In this dynamic grove, bringing in CHC student-nominated favorites, students select examples of contemporary and modern eco-lit classics for our own Green Duck eco literature review. We’ll research environmental topics, causes, and issues relevant to you in terms of how writers address and shape issues for the public conscience, discuss a work in progress of a drama musical on trees, engage with local and regional eco writers, and your own eco-lit project channeling your inner Thoreau with “My Walden,” as well as showing your "eco crit cred” as both creator and critic.  You will engage with ASLE, the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. We will reframe eco lit learning by our own learning wildness, meeting up on the trail, journals in hand, for a field trip through leaves of grass, to our own Walden Pond, as the sun rises.