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American Wilderness Writing (February 2016): The Big Picture

By Erik Hage

The Big Picture

An excellent place to start is with anthologies.  In The Wilderness Reader, editor Frank Bergon defines this body of writing as “prose works of nonfiction” that comprise “literature of the American wilderness that blends feeling with informed observation.”  Bergon argues that even though “scientific considerations” may be important, “their purpose is literary, for they successfully convey the experience of participating firsthand in the life of the wilderness.”  In his edited volume This Incomperable Lande: A Book of American Nature Writing, Thomas Lyon notes that wilderness writers display a “poetic-scientific temperament” through their works—an observation that points to the interdisciplinary nature of the form, which merges literary expression, natural history, and, from Thoreau onward, environmental advocacy.  Reading the Roots: American Nature Writing before Walden, edited by Michael Branch, gathers early writing on nature in all its diversity.  The material Branch has gathered varies in style, discipline, and origin, making this an invaluable interdisciplinary resource.

Works Cited