Women’s Writing About Place

Professor: Gretchen Legler
Institution: University of Maine Farmington
Course Number: ENG 293

LITERARY NONFICTION                                 SPRING 2008




CLASSROOM: Roberts 103               MEETING TIMES: T/TH 8-9:30 a.m.

PROFESSOR: Dr. Gretchen Legler      OFFICE: Creative Writing House

PHONE: 778-7182 (voicemail)             E-MAIL:[email protected]

OFFICE HOURS:  T/R 2:00-3:00 and by appointment

REQUIRED MATERIALS: Please purchase these books at Davaney, Doak and Garret Booksellers in Farmington:

Drinking the Rain, Alix Kates Shulman

Small Places, Jamaica Kincaid

Storyteller, Leslie Marmon Silko

On The Ice, Gretchen Legler

Unbowed, Wangari Maathai

COURSE DESCRIPTION AND GOALS: This is a literature course designed to introduce you to a variety of forms of nonfiction writing. The emphasis will be on reading, discussion, and writing. The goal is for you to become familiar with the literary, political, and social elements of nonfiction writing, to learn to think critically about the issues raised in and by these texts, and gain an appreciation for this important genre.

The special topic for this Spring 2008 section of ENG293 is Women’s Writing About Place. The main question that will fuel our reading and analysis over the course of the semester will be what difference gender makes in how people experience and write about the places they live in, work in, and visit.

We will read across cultures, races and classes, engaging with the work of American authors who write about coastal Maine, New York City, Antarctica, and the desert southwest, as well as writers who were born in and live in other countries including Africa and Antigua. If you are interested in women’s nonfiction writing, issues of the environment, or the idea of place and space, this class is for you. Environmental Science majors, English majors, Creative Writing majors, and Women’s Studies majors may find this course particularly interesting, although it is open to anyone who needs to fill a Humanities distribution requirement.

Questions We Might Ask:

> What do we mean when we talk about place, space, landscape, etc?

> What does a relationship with a place really mean? How have our human relationships to space and place changed over time as we have become an increasingly industrial and technological world?

> How do women write about their experiences in nature and in other spaces? Is it conceivable that they might have different relationships with space and place than men, and that they might express those relationships differently?

>  In what ways do these writers extend our understanding of the positions and roles of human beings within nature and other places?

> How do social and cultural forces construct a gendered concept of nature, traditionally associating women with nature? What are the implications?

> What is the ecofeminist analysis of and response to the environmental crisis?

> Are there traditionally “Western” and “Non-western” perspectives on space and place? What might be the differences and similarities?

> What are some of the traditional constructions of connections between women and nature and other places? What might some of the economic and political implications of those constructions be?

> What are some of the recurring themes and patterns in women’s writing about and experience of nature and other places?

> What genres lie within “nature writing” or “writing about place”?

> Why would men and women view nature differently? Why might people of different races or nationalities view space and place differently?

> What are the implications of the views of nature, space or place held by each author we read?

> What is “nature”?

> Why does nature appear to be mainly a middle- and upper-class, mainly urban, mainly white, mainly male concern? Do we conceive of places or spaces as gendered or raced?

> What are the connections between nature-writing, or writing about place and space, and spirituality?

> Is nature-writing or writing about space and place ever only about space/place/nature, or is it always about people and politics?

> What is “the simple life,” and how simple is it?

> What alternative views of nature or space/place are possible?

> How does our attitude toward nature affect our reading of literature?

> How does our attitude toward literature and language affect our “reading” of nature?

> Why do we need nature-writing when we have science?

> What is the purpose of nature-writing or writing about space/place?

> What is the right relationship between humans and nature or humans and their environments?

> How can the English-speaking world be at the same time such fierce advocates of nature and yet among its greatest destroyers?

> How do people use space and place differently? Are their race and gender associations with these different uses of space/place?

> How are the concepts of space, place, and travel related?

> Can places have gendered identities? Consider a variety of spaces and places: public, private, urban, rural, communal, domestic, foreign, interior, exterior, colonial, postcolonial, national.

> What about “in-between” spaces and displacements? Recent scholars have thought about these places in terms of liminal zones, heterotopias, flânerie, third space, homeland, diaspora, spatial practice, situated knowledge, and border zones.

> What strategies do the writers we are reading employ to write about interior spaces, or “in-between” spaces?

> What “places” are women most likely to inhabit? What kinds of women? How has this changed over time? What is a woman’s relationship to place most likely to be?


We will slowly and carefully read each book and at least one accompanying critical article.

Each student will provide a 2-3 page mini paper for each book we read and study. The paper will synthesize and comment on the lectures, discussions, and readings for each book.

Each student will read a sixth book of his or her choice from a list I supply and pair it with a critical article that I help him or her choose, preparing a 5 page paper, which he or she will present to the class at the end of the semester.

There will be other short assignments and readings.

There will be no mid term or final exam.


1. Attendance: I take attendance! Your presence and participation is essential. If you absolutely MUST be absent, it is a courtesy to let the professor know ahead of time via email or telephone. If you miss a class, you must make your own arrangements to get homework and class notes.  Don’t depend on the professor to catch you up if you have not been in class!

One absence is “Free.” Any additional absences will result in the lowering of your final letter grade by one plus or minus point for each absence. If you are more than ten minutes late you will be marked absent.

2. Participation:  The success of this class depends on all of us working together to create a climate of exciting intellectual inquiry. That means everyone needs to speak up, share his or her ideas, and listen to one another.

Your grade for Participation will be based on three things:

Contribution to Class Discussion: Keep up with reading and assignments so that you can offer something to the class when we discuss a book or piece of writing. Have something to say, or a question to ask, every class meeting. Periodically I will take a survey of who is participating and who is not and makes notations in my grade book. If you know you aren’t a natural-born in-class talker, then try to make an extra effort. I will call on people I think are particularly quiet to give you an opening for sharing your ideas.

Contribution to the Blackboard Discussion Board: If you have a hard time talking in class, or don’t get a chance to ask your question or share your ideas, contribute more often to the Discussion Board on Blackboard. I will look to see that each one of you contributes in a quality manner to the Discussion Board each week. I also may post ideas or questions I’d like the class to consider. This is meant to facilitate on-going conversations about the works we read.

Attendance at Public Reading/Q and A: Attend the public reading by nonfiction writer Rigoberto Gonzalez  that will be held on February 7th  at The Landing and prepare a 250 word (1 page) response to the reading, especially trying to integrate ideas and issues we’ve brought up already in class.

3. Critical Analysis/Research Paper and Presentation: Choose a sixth book from the list I provide. Choose (with my help) one scholarly article or chapter of a book about the author or her work (not a book review). Using this outside source and your own critical analysis of the book, prepare a 5 page paper where you explore the work and the critical companion article, arriving at an original thesis that relates to the themes and ideas we’ve been discussing in class. The paper should be in standard MLA style, with a works cited page.

When you turn in your paper, please include: a copy of the critical article, a summary of the article, any notes you made in preparation for your presentation, and any handouts you might have prepared for your presentation.

Your presentation should be between 15 and 20 minutes. You’ll get more points for your presentation if you do more than just read your paper out loud! Your goal is to teach your classmates about the work you’ve read, providing for them some kind of critical apparatus that will help them understand the author or the work in a more complex way, in relation to the themes we are exploring in class.

Each critical paper and presentation will be graded on a 100 point scale, using the evaluation criteria set out in the Paper Grading Guide and the Presentation Guide available on Blackboard. The higher scores will be for papers that exhibit original thinking, solid critical analysis, and excellent writing and for presentations that are organized, articulate, and engaging.

If you think that your papers could use an extra eye, please consider taking them to the UMF Writing Center well before you hand them in, or make a date to see me during my office hours and we can go over your draft.

And please, practice your presentation before you come to class!

4. Mini-Papers: Each student will write a mini paper for each of the five books we study as a class. Each paper should be 2-3 pages long and be written in standard MLA style. The main thing to remember is that these are NOT research papers, but opportunities for you to engage in original critical analysis of the author, work, or an issue related to the book. Each mini paper should synthesize what you’ve gotten out of class discussions, lectures, the book itself, and any critical work we’ve read that you think relates to it. Do not do outside any additional outside research for these mini papers—this will NOT earn you a better grade. These should be YOUR own ideas.

Each mini paper will be graded on a 100 point scale, using the evaluation criteria set out in the Paper Grading Guide available for you to look at on Blackboard. The higher scores will be for papers that exhibit original thinking, solid critical analysis, and excellent writing. I highly advise bringing your work to the UMF Writing Center well before you hand it in, or make a date to see me during my office hours and we can go over your draft.

5. Short Assignments: You’ll also be asked to complete at least six of the short and hopefully enjoyable assignments listed in the “Assignments” section of Blackboard. These are meant to help you develop your own “sense of place.” Due dates are listed in the syllabus. On these days, bring to class a your completed Short Assignment. All readings for the Short Assignments will either be on Blackboard or on reserve at Mantor Library.



Critical Paper and Presentation: 50%

Six Mini Papers: 25%

Short Assignments: 15%

Class Participation: 10%

ACADEMIC CONDUCT: University of Maine policies on student rights, conduct and academic dishonesty apply and will be upheld in this classroom. Please familiarize yourself with these policies, which are outlined in the University of Maine at Farmington Catalogue and in the Student Handbook. Examples of infractions that will result in dismissal from this classroom include plagiarism, harassment or intimidation of any kind, and any other disruptive or violent behavior.

EQUAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY  is offered at UMF to students with special needs due to disability. Please notify me if a reasonable accommodation is needed to meet course requirements.

INCOMPLETES: Only under the most unusual of circumstances will I grant an incomplete.