Defining Ecocritical Theory and Practice

1994 Western Literature Association Meeting
Salt Lake City, Utah--6 October 1994


The word "ecocriticism" traces back to William Rueckert's 1978 essay "Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism" and apparently lay dormant in critical vocabulary until the 1989 Western Literature Association meeting (in Coeur d'Alene), when Cheryll Glotfelty (at the time a graduate student at Cornell, now Assistant Professor of Literature and the Environment at the University of Nevada, Reno) not only revived the term but urged its adoption to refer to the diffuse critical field that heretofore had been known as "the study of nature writing." Cheryll's call for an "ecocriticism" was immediately seconded at that same WLA meeting by Glen Love (Professor of English at the University of Oregon) in his Past President's speech, entitled "Revaluing Nature: Toward an Ecological Literary Criticism." Since that meeting in 1989, the term "ecocriticism" has bloomed in usage, so that now one finds it appearing with some frequency in calls for papers, critical articles, and indeed academic job descriptions. Indications are that acceptance of the term is imminent.

But there's a problem, which came to the fore at the 1993 WLA meeting in Wichita. Trouble arose on the last day of the conference, at the end of a session entitled, "Ecocriticism: Reimagining the Way We Write about the West," a session that, unfortunately, was left without time for discussion at the end. As people were gathering up their belongings and streaming toward the doors, an older gentleman, still in his seat, clearly befuddled, tried to raise his voice above the haste: "But what IS ecocriticism?" It seems that few people heard him but those who did recognized a voice crying out in the wilderness. O'Grady and Branch immediately exchanged looks of: "Hey, that fellow deserves an answer--we all do!"

And thus was born the idea for the session at the 1994 WLA meeting in Salt Lake City, "Defining Ecocritical Theory and Practice." Gathered here are one-page position papers by sixteen "younger" scholars, all of whom are pondering the question posed by the good man in Wichita: "What is ecocriticism?" Rather than provide the definitive answer, the point of these papers is to foster an awareness of the varied uses (or non-uses!) to which scholars are putting the term. In addition, the writers were asked to consider how our present understanding might lead to future developments, both in scholarship and in pedagogy. Please use this material as a working document, a point of departure from which to ponder your own stance toward "ecocriticism."

Michael P. Branch, Florida International University [now at the University of Nevada, Reno]
Sean O'Grady, Boise State University

Position Papers

Ralph W. Black, What We Talk About When We Talk About Ecocriticism
Christopher Cokinos, What Is Ecocriticism?
Nancy Cook, What Is Ecocriticism?
Harry Crockett, What Is Ecocriticism?
Thomas K. Dean, What Is Eco-Criticism?
Cheryll Glotfelty, What Is Ecocriticism?
Ian Marshall, The Ecocritical Heritage
Kent Ryden, What Is Ecocriticism?
Stephanie Sarver, What Is Ecocriticism?
Don Scheese, Some Principles of Ecocriticism
Mark Schlenz, Survival Stories: Toward an Ecology of Literary Criticism
Scott Slovic, Ecocriticism: Storytelling, Values, Communication, Contact
Stan Tag, Four Ways of Looking at Ecocriticism
David Taylor, What Is Ecocriticism?
David W. Teague, What Is Ecocriticism?
Allison B. Wallace, What Is Ecocriticism?

All texts are Copyright © 1994 by their authors. All rights reserved.