Literature and the Land

English at Maine Coast Semester

Our English curriculum fosters active engagement with a wide variety of literature that explores the relationship between people and the natural world. More specifically, students practice the skills of reading and responding to texts that ask: What is nature? What are our obligations to the natural world, and how do those obligations inform – or conflict with – our obligations to one another? What constitutes a sense of place, and what role does this concept play in developing a sustainable relationship with the land? As we consider the way writers have viewed nature, we examine and shape our own attitudes and beliefs about the relationship between the written word and the world around us. Analytical and creative writing assignments provide opportunities both for analysis of the readings and for introspection.

Literature and the Land (H)

Required, Prerequisite: None

Writer, philosopher, and small-scale farmer Wendell Berry boldly asserts, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.” During our semester together, we will explore this idea of a fundamental connection between self, community, and place. To what degree are we shaped by the places we come from? How does this connection reflect differing eras and voices? Given the complex challenges our world faces, it is more essential than ever that we live in right relationship with nature, but what would such a relationship look like? Are we 21st century humans part of, or apart from, the natural world? What role can “sense of place” play in forging a just ethic with regard to our communities, both human and beyond? We will reflect, too, on personal and immediate topics: what is happening here at Chewonki, and how do our individual experiences relate to larger issues? Whether it involves harvesting potatoes at the farm, waking up under a tarp in the North Woods, or investigating each of the five points on our peninsula, daily life at Chewonki will provide context to help us examine our own relationships with the land.

It is our goal for this course that students will make progress in effective communication by writing with clarity, speaking with purpose, and listening with empathy. Students will improve critical and active reading and discussion skills through thoughtful consideration of a variety of texts. Students will have increased awareness and understanding of both a sense of place and a sense of self. 

We will read from a variety of genres, although most of the readings will be from 19th, 20th, and 21st-century American authors. Major texts include:

  • Wade in the Water, Tracy K. Smith 
  • O Pioneers!, Willa Cather
  • Walking, Henry David Thoreau

In addition, students will be given a course reader with selections from writers which may include Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Richard Blanco, Annie Dillard, Yaa Gyasi, Mohsin Hamid, Joy Harjo, N. Scott Momaday, Tommy Orange, Sarah Orne Jewett, Terry Tempest Williams, Robin Wall Kimmerer and others.

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