“In Wildness is the Preservation of the World”: Classics of American Nature Writing

Moderators: Jonathan Jay and Miriam Whitney
Role of participants: All will read the same seven books listed below (beginning in the summer recommended), and each participant will co-lead the discussion of one of these books.  The moderators will provide sample discussion questions.
Number of participants (including the moderator): 17
Time: Wednesdays, 1:30–3:30 pm
Place: Amherst College, Converse Hall, Porter Lounge, 100 Boltwood Avenue, Amherst
Parking: You will be issued an Amherst campus parking permit

This seminar will examine seven classics of American nature writing from the last century and a half, six prose and one volume of poetry, and explore their unique and varied perspectives on the impact of the natural world on humans.

Beginning with Thoreau, American nature writing has evolved into a distinctive form of literary expression.  While always acutely observant of landscape and wildlife, it is often highly personal, philosophical, and with a spiritual dimension.  We will look at several accomplished male and female writers from the latter half of the 19th Century through the 20th Century who explore, contemplate, and frequently rhapsodize about a diverse group of landscapes and ecosystems, from the Concord woods and Cape Cod seashore to the Blue Ridge Mountains, a Wisconsin farm, the Southwest desert, and the Sierra Nevada.

Format: Seminar


  • Walden, by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
  • A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold (1949)
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard (1974)
  • Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, Edward Abbey (1968)
  • The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod, by Henry Beston (1928)
  • My First Summer in the Sierra, by John Muir (1911)
  • New and Selected Poems, Volume One, by Mary Oliver (1992)

The Moderators: Jonathan Jay is a retired labor attorney and currently a mediator.  He has previously moderated an LIR seminar.  Miriam Whitney is a retired education attorney, and has participated in a number of LIR seminars.  They both enjoy a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors, pleasures presently enhanced by the beauty of Western Massachusetts.

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