White Paper Workshops
Learn More: The Art of Nonfiction: Nature Writing and Personal
Offered at: Chatham College, Pittsburgh PA (1 semester
seminar; combined weekend/distance format)
The Art of Nonfiction – Nature Writing
and Personal Discovery
John Tallmadge, Visiting Professor
Nature writing deals with transformative experiences of place,
encounters with other beings in nature, and the wisdom and insights
that result. It teaches us to see the unseen dimensions of
the world, and to look upon the familiar with unaffected eyes. By
shaping experience into story, it elicits meaning from life, and
it feeds the spirit by permitting the wisdom released by the sharing
of these stories to become part of the storyteller's soul. In this
way it completes a circle of gift-giving that embeds us in the
This course will explore nature writing as an artistic and spiritual
practice, using the urban nature of Pittsburgh as a laboratory. Our
goals are to do a lot of writing, get outdoors for refreshment
and observation, study models of technique and practice presented
by fine nature writers, learn how to support one another, and produce
several finished pieces of work. But most important, to have
fun with writing and life.
The course will meet during three weekends – February 3-4, March
3-4, and April 21-22 – with informal or web-based activities
in between. Final projects and portfolios are due by May
Our sessions are scheduled from 10 AM till 4 PM on Saturdays and
10 AM till 2 PM on Sundays. We'll use a variety of formats
including lectures, presentations, discussions, group activities,
writing exercises, and field excursions. Since this is a
small master class, success will depend on everyone's active participation
and willingness to share experiences, techniques, discoveries,
obsessions, anxieties, blocks, and personal magic. Although
I have prepared a preliminary plan, the class will create the agenda
as our work together and knowledge of one another progresses, in
order to meet everyone's needs as fully as possible. Web
resources and processes will be designed and created by the class.
As a preliminary plan, I envision this course in three units: writing
process and practice, composition, and publication.
First Weekend suggested topics:
- Personal introductions, overview, goals, logistics.
- Writing process and practice
- Nature writing as a genre and a practice of ecological identity
- The magic circle of nature writing
- Getting material: observation, field notes, appreciating urban
Second Weekend suggested topics:
- Writing about a place
- Writing from your own experience
- Developing whole works from memories, notes, and journals
- Research and use of scientific facts
- Editing and revising
- Giving and getting feedback
Third Weekend suggested topics:
- Developing magazine and book projects
- Writing queries and proposals
- Working with agents, editors, and publishers
- The production process
- The writer in community
Requirements and Expectations:
- The following required readings will inform our discussions
and are available at the Chatham bookstore:
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life. New York NY: Harper,
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing
and Life. New York NY: Anchor Books, 1995
Scott Slovic and Terrill Dixon ( eds.), Being in the
World: An Environmental Reader for Writers. New
York NY: Macmillan, 1993 (selections to be announced)
John Tallmadge, Meeting the Tree of Life: A Teacher's
Path. Salt Lake City UT: University of Utah
William Zinsser, On Writing Well: An Informal Guide
to Writing Nonfiction. New York NY: Harper & Row,
- In addition to the required readings, everyone will be asked
to spend one hour per weekday on writing practice, keeping
a journal of freewritings and reflective notes or observations.
I will ask to peruse these at the March meeting, and one item
per week will be included in your final portfolio. Additionally,
you will be asked to post items from time to time or read samples
to the group.
- Everyone will be asked to prepare a 1000-word book review of
a book about writing selected from the following recommended
list, with emphasis on practice and technique. These will
be published on the web for the class.
Dorothea Brande, Becoming a Writer. Los Angeles CA: J.P.
Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers. New York NY: Oxford,
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones. Boston
MA: Shambala, 1986
Burghild Nina Holzer, A Walk Between Heaven and Earth.
Edward Lueders, Writing Natural History: Dialogues with Authors. Salt
Lake City UT: University of Utah Press, 1989
John Murray, The Sierra Club Nature Writing Handbook.
San Francisco CA: Sierra Club, 1995
Gabriele Rico, Writing the Natural Way. Los
Angeles CA: J.P. Tarcher, 2000
Steven Trimble, "Introduction: The Naturalist's Trance",
in Words from the Land. Salt Lake City UT: Gibbs Smith, 1988
- Everyone will choose a writer they admire and researchhis
or her writing process, then make a presentation to the
class. This will be written up for posting on the web and
inclusion in the final portfolio.
- Everyone will prepare two finished pieces of work: a
preliminary essay or story of 1000-2000 words due March 15, and
a final project essay of 2500-7000 words due May 7.
- A final portfolio will be due on May 7, containing one
item from each week's writing practice, plus revised versions
of the first paper, the book review, the research presentation,
and the final essay.