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WebQuest: Contemporary Nature Writers and the Exploration of Place

Overview: In this WebQuest, you will explore the writing of several leading nature writers working and writing in the contemporary United States. You'll have the chance to reflect on the genre of "nature writing" and compare how this type of writing has evolved in American literature.

Reading (please update from the syllabus as distributed, all pages refer to the Norton Book of Nature Writing):
Gary Snyder, "Ancient Forests of the Far West" (663-684)
William Kittredge, "Owning It All" (707-718)
Linda Hasselstrom, "Nighthawks Fly in Thunderstorms" (845-850)
Trudy Ditmar, "Moose" (850-863)
Barry Lopez, "The American Geographies" (914-924)
Scott Russell Sanders, "Buckeye" (924-930)
Gretel Ehrlich, "Friends, Foes, and Working Anmals" (944-950)
Emily Hiestand, "Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah" (960-966)
Linda Hogan, "The Bats" (967-971)
John Daniel, "A Word in Favor of Rootlessness" (984-990)
Leslie Marmon Silko, "Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination" (1003-1015)
David James Duncan, "Northwest Passage" (1022-1027)
Ray Gonzalez, "The Third Eye of the Lizard" (1028-1034)
Gary Paul Nabhan, excerpt from The Desert Smells Like Rain (1039-1043)
Louise Erdrich, "Big Grass" (1043-1047)
David Mas Masumoto, "Planting Seeds" (1048-1051)
Sharman Apt Russell, "Gila Wliderness" (1052-1062)
Evelyn White, "Black Women and the Wilderness" (1063-1068)
Barbara Kingsolver, "High Tide in Tucson" (1068-1078)
Rick Bass, excerpt from The Ninemile Wolves (1114-1120)
Janisse Ray, "Built by Fire" (1131-1133), "Forest Beloved" (1133-1137)

Don't worry about the length of the reading list. Most of these pieces are quite short, so there is about a total of 150 pages. If you find you really don't like a piece, you may want to skim it and move on to one that calls to you more strongly. Each participant in the class should choose one author to explore more fully. To avoid overlap, "claim" your author on the bulletin board (first come, first served!). Read the piece you've selected especially closely, write at least one journal entry about it, and if you can, learn more about your chosen author.

Step 1: Learn about the genre of "nature writing."
Visit the following nature writing sites:
NatureWeb: Nature Writing and the Philosophy of Nature
(just get the gist of this site)
"What Is Nature Writing?"
(be sure to click through to all four pages)
Another take on the question: What Is Nature Writing?

Nature Links
(resources on nature writers, with emphasis on Thoreau, just get the gist of this site)

Read Barry Lopez's thoughts on "A Literature of Place."

Step 2: Learn about environmental organizations and nature writing organizations/publications.
You'll also want to learn about environmental organizations and nature writing organizations. Just to get a taste of the organizations that are out there, be sure to look at the following:
EnviroArts: Orion Online

Orion Society

Petroglyph: A Journal of Creative Nature Writing
(maybe you'd like to submit some of your work to this journal?)

Step 3: Explore resources related to the authors that interest you. 
You'll definitely want to learn more about the author you've “claimed”—but you might want to find out about some of your other favorites as well! We've listed pieces by the authors, pieces about the authors, and interviews with the authors.

Gary Snyder
Academy of American Poets: Gary Snyder

Modern American Poetry: Gary Snyder

Poet of the Wilderness: Gary Snyder

Beat Page: Gary Snyder

An EcoBooks Featured Author: Gary Snyder

Literary Kicks: Gary Snyder

William Kittredge
William Kittredge, "The Terror" (in response to September 11)
"William Kittredge Learns How To Live"

Linda Hasselstrom
Introduction to Linda Hasselstrom

Windbreak House
: Linda Hasselstrom's website (and info about her writing retreats for women!)
Photo and audio clip!

Linda Hasselstrom, "The Only Place"
Listen to several South Dakota Public Radio pieces on Linda Hasselstrom  (go this page, then click on each specific audio link).

Trudy Dittmar
Discussed in Introduction to American Nature Writing 2000: A Celebration of Women Writers

Barry Lopez
"Paying Attention: An Interview with Barry Lopez"

Another interview with Barry Lopez

. . . and yet another interview with Barry Lopez

Scott Russell Sanders
Brief Overview
(from his faculty page at Indiana University)
Scott Russell Sanders's Home Page
Scott Russell Sanders, "Top Ten Reasons Why We'll Always Need a Good Story"

Gretel Ehrlich
Introduction to Gretel Ehrlich
(calls her the Whitman of Wyoming) Interviews: Gretel Ehrlich

Emily Hiestand
Introduction to Emily Hiestand
"Making Much of Little: Emily Hiestand Has Traveled Much in Winthrop, Cambridge, and in the Precincts of Her Own Past" (review)
Emily Hiestand, "Real Places" (essay in The Atlantic Monthly)
Emily Hiestand, excerpt from Angela, the Upside-down Girl and Other Domestic Travels

Linda Hogan
9 poems by Linda Hogan

Biography of Linda Hogan

Voices from the Gaps: Linda Hogan

Storytellers: Linda Hogan

John Daniel
John Daniel, excerpt from Looking After: A Son's Memoir
Interview with John Daniel

Leslie Marmon Silko
Leslie Marmon Silko Home Page (Official Site)

The Write Stuff: An Interview with Leslie Marmon Silko

Voices from the Gaps: Leslie Marmon Silko

David James Duncan
Brief overview
of David James Duncan (faculty page at University of Montana)
David James Duncan, "How Much Gold Is a River Worth?"
David James Duncan, "Wonder, Yogi, Gladly"

Ray Gonzalez
of Ray Gonzalez
Ray Gonzalez, "Rattlesnake Dreams"

Gary Paul Nabhan
An EcoBooks Featured Author: Gary Paul Nabhan

Gary Paul Nabhan, "Mother Mountains"
Wild Wisdom: A Conversation with Gary Paul Nabhan

Louise Erdrich
Modern American Poetry: Louise Erdrich

Salon Interview with Louise Erdrich

Voices from the Gaps: Louise Erdrich

David Mas Masumoto
Home Page for David Mas Masumoto
David Mas Masumoto, "Slow Farming and the Stories that Bind Us"

Sharman Apt Russell

"Braided into Her Being: The Natural World of Sharman Apt Russell"

Rick Bass
Rick Bass, "Round River"
Rick Bass, "The Real War on the West"
Contemporary Fiction: Rick Bass

Mississippi Writers Page: Rick Bass

"A Paint Brush in One Hand and a Bucket of Water in the Other: Nature Writing and the Politics of Wilderness"
(an interview with Rick Bass)

Barbara Kingsolver
David Gergen Interviews Barbara Kingsolver

Salon Lit Chat: Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver Home Page

New York Times Featured Author: Barbara Kingsolver

Janisse Ray

Introduction to Janisse Ray

Journal Prompts
If one of the writers particularly inspires you, write about your place/space imitating this author's style.
~Take a favorite from one of the passages, copy into your journal, and take off from there.
~Write a letter to one of the writers featured this week.
~Imagine you have a chance to interview one of these writers. What would you ask?

Essay Topic
Focusing on one or two of these authors, define "nature writing" and show how this writer (or these writers) do or do not meet this definition. As always, be sure to include resources from the WebQuest (you'll want to cite at least one of the pieces on nature writing in Step 1). See the Essay Guidelines for more detail about research, sources, length requirements, and documentation. Essay due to Dr. Tate via email by Wednesday, May 8, at 3:00 p.m.

"American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide" was produced by students in ENGL 446, American Transcendentalism, and ENGL 447, American Literature and the Prominence of Place: A Travel Practicum. These courses were team-taught in the Department of English at Shepherd College, Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in Spring 2002 by Dr. Patricia Dwyer and Dr. Linda Tate. For more information on the course and the web project, visit "About This Site." © 2003 Linda Tate.