What is Environmental Imagination?

Poems, stories, and essays are not written in a vacuum; they arise from the imaginations of writers who are imprinted and influenced by specifics of place and landscape–by history, geography, geology, biology, and ecology, among others.  And the texts that writers create are also situated in and imprinted by particular bio-regions and multiple environments, often subtle and complex.

Where would William Faulkner have been without YoknapatawphaCounty, or Wallace Stegner have been without the American West, the Big Rock Candy Mountain?  Where would Janisse Ray be without the rural southern Georgia bio-region of her childhood, or Annie Proulx be without the austere landscapes of Newfoundland and Wyoming from which to draw stories?

Through creative writing workshops, study in literature courses, cross-disciplinary environmental coursework in disciplines other than English, self-designed fieldwork experiences, and intensive thesis work with a major professor, writers in the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Environment will learn to develop and cultivate an eco-centric aesthetic in their writing.  The result is writing that is rich in specifics, subject matter, and imaginative content.
To begin considering how we, as writers, might come to a greater awareness of the environmental underpinnings and ecological considerations of the texts we create, we can begin with Lawrence Buell’s succinct phrase, “the environmental imagination.”  In his ground-breaking work, The Environmental Imagination, Buell outlines what he believes to be the four earmarks of an environmental text:

  1. The nonhuman environment is present not merely as a framing device but as a presence that begins to suggest that human history is implicated in natural history;
  2. The human interest is not understood to be the only legitimate interest;
  3. Human accountability to the environment is part of the text’s ethical orientation; and
  4. Some sense of the environment as a process rather than as a constant or a given is at least implicit in the text.

Suggested Reading

Environmental Journals & Magazines