Course: Eco Literature

HC 222H

Professor: Barbara Mossberg

Homer sang it, Aesop fabled it, Shakespeare sonneted it, Milton made it epic, Wordsworth gave us our words’ worth: since Gilgamesh scratched it on clay in cuneiform in 2700 BCE, eco-literature is a dynamic portrait of human engagement and concern with our world. 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 despair at what is lost. We ponder icons of the environmental movement, including Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Wendell Berry, and the poetry of Wordsworth, Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Cullen Bryant, Emily Dickinson, Joyce Kilmer, and Pablo Neruda, and contemporaries such as Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder, W.S. Merwin, Alicia Ostriker, Story Musgrave, and others.

We’ll note how leaders of countries and organizations and courts write about the environment. We consider American iconic literature in terms of eco themes: Death of a Salesman, The Great Gatsby, Our Town. We take a gander at ancient and classic foundations of eco-literature as we consider how we present our world to our children, from Dr. Seuss to E.B. White to Shel Silverstein. We will see examples of the most famous dramas for evidence of eco-consciousness.

In the process of asking, how does the human mind conceive and express nature, we are reflecting on how we see: such exploration reveals a consciousness and conscience for what it means to be human. From works narrated by pigs and dogs and elephants, to Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, students select examples of contemporary and modern eco-lit classics for an eco-literature review. We’ll research environmental topics, causes, and issues in terms of how writers address and shape them for the public conscience, produce iconic plays and examine their eco significance, preview a work in progress of a drama musical on trees, engage with local and regional eco-writers, create an original “poet-tree slam,” and your own eco-lit journal as well as "eco-crit" as both creator and critic.

Class will include field trips on and off campus, including to our own Walden Pond, yes, in the early morning, as dawn rises.