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Final Project

Small Waldens: Doing Ecocriticism and Literary Naturalism

Whether called “ecocriticism” or “environmental criticism,” we have seen that environmental writing often blends the poetic and the scientific, the rhetorical and critical with the creative and philosophical. Your final project challenges you to put into action the critical perspective, the creative inspiration, and the philosophical ideas engaged during the course and our earnest exploration of American environmental writing. The purpose is for you to give an account to some aspect of environmental writing that you want to explore further–and thus are inviting  us to explore further with you.  To echo Annie Dillard, this is your chance to speak up for the creation, in your own creation–to pursue your own small Walden. And in the process, this is your opportunity to demonstrate to Thoreau and the other authors we have studied and read that you have been paying attention.

Formal guidelines:

The culmination of the final project will be a 7-10 page essay [should you do a multimedia project, the written portion would be shorter: see below]. Essay means nonfiction (usually), though we have seen, certainly, that ‘poetic’ is a key aspect of American environmental writing. So, the essay could, if interested, integrate other genres (poetry, for example) and other media (photographic, audio, video), if you believe this is relevant and effective to your vision and your exploration. Something to consider and talk more about with me. Essay also means (literally) attempt, as in experiment. Your essay should cite and incorporate the thought/writing of at least one of the authors we have read this term; it must also include reference to the further reading texts you have considered: these can be included in a brief bibliography, though you might also consider ways to integrate this writing effectively into your own. To sum up the minimal guidelines:

  • at least 7 pages (not including the 1 page for the preface)
  • effective reference to at least one author from the course, integrated into the essay
  • reference to at least two further reading texts, 1 or more course keywords, and one critical connection: these can be discussed/cited in the preface, if they don’t fit into the essay itself.
  • A Preface: in addition to the essay itself, you will include a 1 page preface, situating your work in the context of this course (authors and ideas we have studied and explored, keywords) and in the larger contexts of environmental writing and thinking (citations of further reading). Briefly explain to your reader what you are trying to do here (essay means to attempt, to experiment) and where this thinking and writing comes from.

Topical guidelines:

Any aspect or issue in environmental writing/ecocriticism of interest to you and that you believe is worth pursuing, worth speaking up for. Use the readings from the course as a guide: follow up and go further with an idea that came up in your journal, in one of your blogs or earlier writing projects, in your further reading. Define your topic and focus as you believe it to be appropriate to your subject, to the effectiveness of the essay (something we will workshop), to your purpose in writing about it. Incorporate lessons from our readings and our discussions as to how writers approach the environment as both experience and idea in writing. Some options you might explore:

  • Write an ecocritical or ecological reading of a favorite or familiar literary text (poem, novel)  or film–read with the environment in mind. In what ways does the literary imagination of the text express an environmental vision or as Buell puts it, “environmentality”?
  • Write your own literary or poetic or rhetorical narrative (think Thoreau, Dillard, Berry, Abram, Tempest Williams–following in their footsteps) focusing on a place or experience you have had with or in the environment. In this sense, refocusing the ‘environment’  or ecology with imagination (writing/poetics/language) in mind. Following Cronon and others, this is your opportunity to “rethink” your encounter with the environment.
  • An exposition: focus on a particular topic of significance and of interest (climate, oil, saving the bay, development, food, etc)–explore, explain, elaborate the problem and how you want us to think about it. Think of The Ethics of What We Eat or Leopold’s “Land Ethic”  or Horton’s Bay Country as relevant models.
  • Produce a multimedia work (film, photo-essay, sculpture, digital text) that focuses on the environmental in some way. A written portion (of at least 2-3 pages) would be required to establish the context for the work. Think of “King Corn”  or “The Cove” or a photographic/audio essay such as “The Fracking of Rachel Carson.” In the case of a video–a documentary or a video-essay of some sort–plan on a length of 5 minutes.
  • Some combination of these: as we have seen, environmental writing since Thoreau loves “broad margins” and exists on the margins of various discourses.

You have lots of range to consider for your exploration—something I am deliberately challenging you with since range and exploration is a key element in American environmental writing. So, in effect, this final project is your test for the course. I encourage any and all to come see me to compost ideas and ask for my help in deciding upon your focus, in dealing with this (perhaps daunting) range of opportunity with this assignment.


Someone out there (remember, this will be on your blog, and I plan to collect/link your final version to a class digital magazine; think Thoreau sending an account to his kindred from a distant land) who wants a better grasp of what American environmental writing means, what kind of writing fits under that category, as well as an understanding of the particular issues you raise in your essay and your interest in them. In general, think of your project as the kind of writing that could someday be included in American Earth, or form the beginnings of your own Walden or Pilgrim (for those particularly ambitious). You will be publishing this final project on your blog–and linking it to the class magazine I have set up on Earth’s Eye for future classes to look through.

You can think of these projects as heading toward a publication such as Orion Magazine or Terrain or Ecotone.

One other audience to keep in mind: the Warner Prize–a prize given to environmentally focused nonfiction, in the style of Dillard and Warner. I am told there will be a call for submissions in January–perfect timing.

Purpose: (blending Thoreau and Dillard) To give an earnest account of where we are.

Project map:

Step 1: Initial proposal (submitted to Canvas: 1-2 pages/300-500 words)

  1. Keyword Composting: Select 7-10 Keywords from our list and define each with an example from one of our texts (a quotation or paraphrase that best demonstrates it). From these, pick at least 3 that seem relevant to your final project, and explain why, what you might do with this concept in the project.
  2. Mentors:
    1. Indicate which author from the course might serve as a guide for this project: why? what aspect of this writer’s work do you imagine citing/integrating into your project? In what ways might your project be modeled on this writer’s work or ethos?
    2. Identify (and cited) a particular perspective on environmental criticism from Buell’s book that might inspire or guide your project.
  3. Further Reading: Do some initial research for the project, locating (and citing) at least 1 or 2 texts that you might read for additional reading into a topic, an author, an issue that could provide you with logos.
  4. Abstract of your idea: write a paragraph that summarizes what you are setting out to do with this project–at least for now, subject to change.
  5. Any questions you have at this point, to guide feedback from your writing group and from me.

Step 2: Further reading/presentation.

In class, you will present your proposal to your writing groups and receive feedback.

Step 3: Drafting

A draft of your work in progress. Need not be a full draft, yet; should be at least 3 pages, enough to give your readers a sense of where you plan to go. This is something you can also use in conferencing with me.

Step 4: Publication of your final project.

You will publish your final version of the project on your blog–and link it to a class magazine I will set up. You will also submit a copy to Canvas. [100 points]


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