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Creative Writing | English Language and Literature


Much has been made about the relationship between nature writing and science. The foundation of the genre is empirical observation of the more-than-human world. That’s not the whole of it, however. Because of the pairing of empiricism and other human experience, readers come to the genre with certain assumptions: they assume the text will tell them something independently verifiable about the object world--something they could see, hear, or touch if they were in the same location at the same time. They assume they are reading nonfiction, and for most readers, that distinction is important. Readers also come to nature writing with the hope that the writer will use imagination to help them see the world in a new way and possibly offer them a different and better relationship to the more-than-human sphere.

If the proceeding is true, nature writing as a genre is unique, and we must ask: how should we read nonfiction nature writing? How does the nonfiction distinction change the relationship between the writer and the reader? The writer and the world? The reader and the world? In this article, Sumner argues that a rhetoric of assent is necessary when reading nature writers because nature writers are imaginatively exploring how we humans can establish a more ethical relationship with the more-than-human world.

Document Type

Accepted Version


This article is the author-created version that incorporates referee comments. It is the accepted-for-publication version. The content of this version may be identical to the published version (the version of record) save for value-added elements provided by the publisher (e.g., copy editing, layout changes, or branding consistent with the rest of the publication).


This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in ISLE: Interdisciplinary studies in LIterature and Environment following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, volume 12, issue 2, 2005, pages 31-53, is available online at: doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/isle/12.2.31.

Original Citation

David Thomas Sumner
"That could happen": nature writing, the nature fakers, and a rhetoric of assent.
ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, 2005, volume 12, issue 2, pages 31-53



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