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Nature Writing  

This libguide is an intersectional guide to the nature writing genre and resources for further reading.
Last Updated: Mar 30, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

About Nature Writing Print Page

Diversity in the genre

While the term "nature writing" traditionally calls to mind specific authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and John Muir, I will take an intersectional approach to the genre and focus instead on a diversity of writing and writers. Very few writers work exclusively in the "nature writing" genre so this guide will instead identify works by authors, late and contemporary, who have been influenced by their landscape and explore its relationship to the human experience. If nature writing simply is writing that reflects on the human relationship to the world around us, there are many texts that discuss this dynamic and yet would not be considered "nature writing." As Catherine Buni writes in "Toward a Wider View of 'Nature Writing'":

"The idea that stories improve us, much as nature does, is not news. There is now research demonstrating what we’ve known intuitively all along: that reading, and in particular reading widely . . . encourages creative thinking, exposes and breaks down barriers between “self” and “other” and between “nature” and “culture.” Reading makes us more empathic and more aware of others’ experiences, desires, and needs. Sometimes it inspires us to act on behalf of others, or the earth, or both."


What is nature writing?

"Nature writing is not, in truth, a neat and orderly field. Nevertheless, we can make a few sound and, I hope, helpful generalizations. First and most fundamentally, the literature of nature has three main dimensions to it: natural history information, personal responses to nature, and philosophical interpretation of nature." - Thomas Lyon, This Incomparable Land


Similarly, Paul Evans identifies the spirit of nature writing in his essay, "How to be a nature writer":

"A well-turned phrase describing a particular landscape or living thing is a joy to behold, but the challenge is greater than that. For me, writing inspired by Nature is akin to nature conservation, of which my favourite definition is: 'the transfer of significance from the past to the future'."


Why does nature writing matter?

Nature writing is not just a genre of environmental literature that sits on a shelf, static in time, but, as Robert Macfarlane puts it:

"Not everything in the forest is lovely and not all of this writing is to the taste of every reader. More voices need to be heard from ethnic-minority writers and from a wider range of identities and backgrounds . . . But there is no one true way of writing about nature and place. The tradition of such literature has always been . . . “passionate, pluriform and essential”. Our contemporary version mixes ire, irony and the irenic; green ecologies with dark ecologies." -- "Why We Need Nature Writing"


New era of nature writing

Andrea Nolan speaks to the new landscape of nature writing in her essay, "Not Your Grandfather's Nature Writing: The New Nature Journals":

"Anytime a writer creates a vivid setting, and allows that setting to impact and shape his characters, that writer has become a sort of nature writer.  This is true not just for the writers of the wild world, but of the man-created places as well . . . They are the same; only their subject matter differs.  They are both writing of place – they are both, in their own way, writers of environment."


Other names and related genres

Nature writing is philosophically related to many other ecologically-minded genres: environmental literature, ecocriticism, conservationism, naturalism, social ecology, environmental justice.

I have chosen to use "nature writing" as my preferred term for this genre because it best encompasses the diversity of writing methods, from poetry to fiction to creative nonfiction, despite the negative connotations of the term as following a tradition of primarily while male writers.


A Long View of Nature Writing

There has been nature writing as long as humans have had any literary traditons, from Native American oral traditions to New World observations by colonists, the rise of Emerson and Thoreau in the 1900s through to the popularity of environmentalism as a social movement in the 60s and continued by contemporary writers today, many of whom focus on revising the stereotyped and maligned connotations of "nature writing" to accomodate unique and diverse experiences.


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