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For more information, please contact us at:

Environmental Studies Program
Jeannette Rankin Hall 106A
The University of Montana
Missoula, MT 59812-4320
Tel: (406) 243-6273
Fax: (406) 243-6090

Environmental Writing

Selected Environmental Studies Writing Focus Alumni Book Publications

Environmental Writing Emphasis Theses Summary

William Kittredge Distinguished Visiting Writer in Environmental Studies

Faculty Advisor: Phil Condon, Professor - 406.243.2904

Phil teaches ENST 573: Environmental Writing each Fall and ENST 505: Literature of Nature Writing each Spring. He directs several Environmental Studies writing emphasis thesis project committees each year. His books are River Street (stories, SMU Press 1994), Clay Center (novel EWU Press 2004), Montana Surround (essays, Johnson Books 2004), and Nine Ten Again (stories, Elixir Press 2009).

The Kittredge Distinguished Visiting Writer in the Environmental Studies Program brings an outstanding writer to teach a semester-long graduate writing course in Environmental Studies each spring semester (EVST 594: Visiting Writer).

Tentatively, Janisse Ray from Georgia, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and The Seed Underground, will be the Kittredge Visiting Writer in Environmental Studies in Spring 2014. For full info and bibliography see

Tentatively, William deBuys from New Mexico, author of A Great Aridness and River of Traps, will be Kittredge Visiting Writer in Environmental Studies in Spring 2015.

Previous Kittredge VW's include Rick Bass 2013, David Oates 2012, Rebecca Solnit 2010, Craig Childs 2009, Terry Tempest Williams 2008, Gary Ferguson 2007, Kim Todd 2006, Robert Michael Pyle 2005, Annick Smith 2004, and in 2003 the Visiting Writer Program's namesake, William Kittredge.

ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING INSTITUTE (EWI) (Environmental Studies Grad Students Eligible): Next EWI will be held in fall 2014, in Missoula.

Previous EWI leaders have included 2012 (Richard Manning), 2011 (Rick Bass) 2009 (Elizabeth Grossman), 2007 (Alison Hawthorne Deming), 2006 (Sharman Apt Russell), 2005 (Janisse Ray, Kim Todd, Phil Condon), 2004 (David James Duncan), 2003 (John Elder), 2002 (Robert Michael Pyle), and many others. for full details.


Overview & Culminating Degree Projects:

The Environmental Writing focus within the Graduate Environmental Studies Program at the University of Montana is unique and flexible, and like all parts of the Program, interdisciplinary in approach and activist in focus. It offers students the opportunity to develop and use their writing skills, talents, and interests in ways that promote and demonstrate environmental concerns, awareness, and sensitivities. The culminating project for the Writing focus can be a thesis, professional paper, or portfolio. The writing focus thesis is described in the Environmental Studies Program general thesis guidelines as an "innovative, interpretive, or critical work (as in the Humanities or Fine Arts)."

As the Environmental Writing Focus Thesis/Porfolio Summary makes clear, the ways in which graduate students fulfill the requirement are diverse, and the range of possibilities for a Writing Thesis or Portfolio project is most fully understood through a review of that summary list. This diversity mirrors, on a Program scale, the great range in what is called variously, in the wider culture, Nature Writing, Environmental Writing, or the Writing of Place or Landscape. There is an ongoing resurgence in this field, even as its boundaries and definitions interconnect and evolve, in the Environmental Studies writing focus as in the culture itself. As Barry Lopez has said, in certainly one of the most inclusive definitions of the genre, "it is arguably more helpful to see it [nature writing] as the strain of American literature that, more than others now, is pursuing the ancient discourse on human fate."

A review of Selected Environmental Studies Writing Emphasis Alumni Book Publications reveals that Program graduates in this emphasis have followed through their thesis work to book publication (and magazine or journal publication) in significant numbers. Such results, and parallel intentions on the part of current and future students, are in keeping with the activist focus of the Environmental Studies Program itself; a main goal for Writing Emphasis students is to produce work that has a clear possibility of reaching a wider audience and contributing to the vital ongoing environmental conversations and expressions within society.

Students are encouraged and directed to conceive of their Writing Emphasis thesis project as either a book in progress, a prototype for a book, a series of related non-fiction creative works with individual publication possibilities, and/or a thorough book proposal, including sample chapters or excerpts. Such a vision, regardless of where in the spectrum of Environmental Writing any particular project might fall, indicates that Environmental Writing thesis work should be original, compelling, and impassioned, grounded in knowledge of the tradition and field, informed and critical as to the issues it raises, and written to publication standards.


Coursework leading up to the Writing thesis project is drawn from the supportive resources in the Program (annual Environmental Writing and Literature of Nature Writing courses with Phil Condon as well as an annual Writing course offered by a Visiting Writer), and from non-fiction writing courses as available in the English Creative Writing Program, Environmental History courses offered in History, Environmental Ethics & Philosophy courses offered in Philosophy, Environmental Journalism & Magazine Writing courses offered in Journalism, as well as from many courses of individual interest and relevance throughout the Environmental Studies Program and across campus: Forestry, Biology, Geology, Native American Studies, etc.

Writing focus students must meet all the distribution requirements for the Environmental Studies Program degree in addition to E. Literature & Thought: graduate Program courses in the areas of E. Science, Policy, and Engagement. The writing emphasis itself has no formal requirements beyond the required Program distribution requirements, yet in most cases, those who work on a Writing Thesis should plan to take at least one E. Writing course, at least one additional E. Writing or Non-Fiction or Journalism course, and at least one course from either Environmental Literature, Philosophy, or History. If students intend to complete Program work in two years, it's most workable to have a writing thesis idea and proposal in mind by the end of the first year and on paper by early in the second year.

Selected faculty from other departments and programs who offer courses of major interest and relevance to Writing emphasis students include the following:

  • Christopher Preston and Deborah Slicer, Philosophy: Env. Ethics & Env. Philosopy
  • Dan Flores, History: Env. History
  • David Moore, English: Ecocriticism, Native American Literature, Green Literature
  • Steve Schwartz, Communications: Env Rhetoric
  • Judy Blunt and David Gates, English: Creative Writing Nonfiction
  • Jeff Hull, Journalism: Magazine Freelancing and Outdoor Writing


Other opportunities are available to Writing students: working on, writing for, and/or editing the nationally known and distributed graduate student journal Camas: The Nature of the West, produced by students in fall and spring; reading in the Wild Mercy community nature writing reading series each year; and attending the Environmental Writing Institute, a workshop led by a nationally known environmental writer and attended by a combination of second-year Environmental Studies student writers with other writers, teachers, and students from around the country each fall.

Prospective applicants or any writing students considering the Environmental Studies Program are encouraged to apply to EWI. Many Environmental Studies graduate writing students in the past have attended EWI before they applied to the Program and attendance at EWI is an excellent way to get a sense of our Program and of western MT.

The WILD MERCY community reading series for nature and environmental writing enters its eighth year in AY 2013/14. Monthly readings feature 2 writers each evening: Environmental Studies graduate students, Environmental Studies Visiting Writers, writing alumni, & more.

Questions, visits, or discussions about the Writing Emphasis are welcome at any time. It's also easily aranged for prospective students or applicants to correspond or talk with current students.

Contact Phil Condon.

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