Duration: 8 weeks
Skill level: Intermediate
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What is the role of the nature writer today? Drawing on non-fiction, fiction and poetry from the Granta archive and beyond, we’ll examine the roots and possibilities of nature writing in its broadest sense. We’ll ask how nature writing from the past can help us face an environment in crisis, and how we can approach the world with wonder even as we write with grief, anger and hope.
Over eight weeks, you’ll develop a 3,000-word piece of nature writing. Through a combination of lectures, podcasts, short written assignments, guest talks and group Zooms, we’ll trace the evolution of the genre from pastoral traditions to poetic memoirs, and draw out tools for our own writing practices.
You’ll be given a free one-year digital subscription to Granta magazine, as well as access to curated extracts from Granta books, and the magazine, podcast and video archive. Throughout the course there is insight from guest authors and Granta staff.
You’ll finish the course with a sense of where nature writing has been and where you – and your voice – might take it.
Entry is by application to ensure you get the most out of the course.
If nature is not only in the pristine wilderness, Jessica asks, but in our cities, our bodies and ways of living, what does this mean for the nature writer?
Jessica J. Lee | on Nature
I’m Jessica J. Lee. I’m the author of Two Trees Make a Forest and Turning, and I’m the Course Director for Granta’s Nature Writing Course.
I think I’ve been kind of preoccupied with this question of nature and environment for a really long time. You know, what is it, how do we protect it on a planet in crisis?
For me, I grew up in the suburbs, and then as an adult, always lived in really big cities. And so I really resisted this idea of nature as just wilderness that’s out there and beyond the horizon and inaccessible to a lot of us. I had this feeling that nature had to be something that was more familiar and every day, that it was something we encountered in our cities amidst the built environment and in scrappy patches that we’d left behind.
Nature is something we encounter within ourselves, in our bodies, in all the things we live with. So for me, nature writing is really about how we attend to that embeddedness of the natural world. It’s not something that’s dichotomous and out there and far away from us and in opposition to us, but something we live with that’s really a part of us.
How does nature writing grapple with this entanglement of ourselves, our bodies, and everything that surrounds us? I think this is a really complex moment for us as nature writers because the stakes just feel really, really high. We’re talking about the political stakes of nature writing, how we write amidst climate change. It’s a lot of stuff that I think in many ways feels too big to hold, too big for us to sort of close down and lock down in a single piece of writing. But I think one of the great things about nature writing and about a course like this is that we can write in conversation with others.
We don’t need to have all the answers, but rather hold the discomfort that we’re feeling and bring that into the conversation. Write towards one another and engage with the tradition that has come before us and those you’re writing alongside. We don’t all have to have all the answers, but rather contribute our voices to this conversation where there’s just a lot at stake.
What do we mean when we talk about nature? And what do we mean by nature writing? In this session, we’ll explore the origins of the genre – from Pastoral and Romantic traditions to the resurgence of ‘new nature writing’ in the twenty-first century and beyond. We’ll examine why – and how – we hope to engage with nature in our own writing practice.
There will be a group Zoom with your tutor.
Who gets to write about nature? And why does this matter? In this session we’ll look at the range of perspectives nature writing may include, asking how broadening our understanding of the genre can help foster a richer and more just future for both humans and nature. How do we decide which things are worth recording and which things to leave out? We’ll experiment with points of view in our writing in order to notice things we may not have before.
How can we become more observant of the natural world? In this session we’ll explore techniques for connecting not just with our senses but with the ways we are entwined with places. From writing out in the field to drawing on scientific and artistic modes of engaging with the world, we’ll develop skills for sensing the natural world in detail and determining how much of that detail makes its way to the page.
What shape might a journey in nature take? How can we capture the vastness of deep time, the ongoing legacies of colonial conquest and the present reality of the climate crisis? From the hero’s quest to more meditative contemporary forms, we’ll examine how our decisions about narrative and scale can help us to reimagine what nature writing looks like.
How do we see ourselves as nature writers? Is our primary job to bear witness to a world soon to be lost or to agitate for change? In this session, we’ll ask how emotions – from grief to rage to hope – might serve us in our writing, and how we can balance feelings with knowledge on the page.
In this session we’ll dive deep on structure, craft techniques and editing practices. We’ll look to the natural world to inspire how we might shape our pieces of writing and ask how we encourage flexibility in our writing routines.
There will be a group Zoom with your tutor.
No formal exercises, extracts or videos. This fortnight-long session is dedicated to focusing on getting down to write and apply the lessons studied over the course. There’s information on next steps, ways to get your work noticed, and Granta’s submission process.
At the end of the session, you’re invited to submit a finished 3,000-word piece of nature writing which your tutor will give feedback on.
There will be a live Q&A with a Granta guest in the last week of the course.
Jessica J. Lee is the founding editor of the Willowherb Review, author of Two Trees Make a Forest and tutor at the University of Cambridge. She is a contributor to Granta magazine.
I’m thrilled to have been invited to course direct Granta’s nature writing workshop, at a moment when the genre is coming to grips with environmental crises and their uneven effects. This course will support writers in finding their voice in this landscape, ultimately developing work that engages with what it means to write about the nature in the twenty-first century.
Jennifer Kabat’s work has appeared in The Best American Essays, McSweeney’s, BOMB, The New York Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Believer, Virginia Quarterly Review and The White Review, among others. She is a contributor to Granta magazine and her twinned book-length essays The Eighth Moon and Nightshining are forthcoming from Milkweed Editions. She teaches on the design research MA at SVA in New York City. An apprentice herbalist, Jennifer lives in rural upstate New York and serves on her volunteer fire department.
The course content was well thought out, clear, user friendly. The course tutor was a constant presence in the material and feedback, but at the same time it felt as though she was behind the scenes encouraging and suggesting and prompting while trusting us to do our work.... The constant opportunities for feedback between course participants were integral to the course.
Overall the course was quite intense and the commitment it required was definitely worth it. All the participants have expressed the intention of remaining in touch with the group, which will be an ongoing bonus.
This course was stellar. I learned so much about how to effectively and respectfully write about the natural world, while being mindful to create interesting and intricate writing that will engage readers and make them think about nature and our relationship to it. The course tutor, Jessica, was immensely knowledgeable and fostered a sense of togetherness for the group. The live sessions were always engaging and fun. I came through this course certain in how to proceed with my novel, with a clear and conscious voice for my characters. Thank you!
My writing has never been taken care of and held in such graceful space before. I am so incredibly thankful and in awe of this platform. This experience has been a true gift that is boundless.