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About the Institute

Founded in 1990 by long-time EVST Director Tom Roy (Professor EVST) and Henry Harrington (Professor, English and EVST) at the University of Montana, the Environmental Writing Institute was one of the first writing conferences in the country to focus entirely on nature and environmental writing, issues, concerns, and approaches.

Now in its 21th year, EWI is distinguished not only by longevity, but also by the consistent quality—in teaching and writing—of its workshop leaders, and by the quality of its writing participants and its inspiring and beautiful setting in a writer's town: Missoula, Montana.

EWI participants each year (15 maximum) include both aspiring and accomplished writers--essayists, journalists, scientists, outdoor writers, natural historians, students, and teachers from around the country.  Participants are published and unpublished writers whose concerns range widely and wildly from the preservation of biodiversity to the conservation of community, from the ecology of high mountains to the wildness in vacant urban lots.  Some participants, familiar with other genres—from poetry to scientific writing—may be trying the personal, narrative, or natural history essay for the first time. 

Several of the EWI participants each year are second-year graduate environmental writing students from the U.M. Environmental Studies Program.  Over the years, many "outside" EWI participants have gone on to study in the Environmental Writing Emphasis of the U.M. graduate EVST Program. 

Many EWI participants have also gone on to publish revised versions of their EWI projects and/or other writings in national magazines and in book form.  Only a few recent examples include Jordan Fisher Smith (Nature Noir, 2005), a two-time EWI alumni; David Strohmaier (Seasons of Fire, 2001; Drift Smoke 2005); and Eliza Murphy, whose 2004 EWI manuscript evolved into her cover and feature story for High Country News in 2005.

Sponsored by The University of Montana Environmental Studies Program, EWI 2012 will run Wednesday October 3 to Sunday October 7, 2012, at the U.M. University Center.  The UM campus and downtown are only blocks apart via a beautiful riverside walk along the Clark Fork River. EWI participants will have most afternoons and evenings free.

EWI opens with a welcoming dinner Wednesday evening. Thursday through Sunday mornings are four-hour workshop classes led by 2012 EWI leader Richard Manning.  Classes meet in the Alumni Board Room at the U MT University Center with a spacious mountain view and markets, shops, and lounges only down the hall.  The workshop classes give participants the opportunity to receive thoughtful response and advice, to test their essays on an audience both sophisticated and encouraging, and to generate new work. Rick will also arrange brief individual conferences with the participants during the afternoons to discuss individual writings and the writing life.  EWI ends Sunday with a farewell lunch.

The EWI Setting

Western Montana's spectacular beauty surrounds the University of Montana's campus in Missoula.  Formed by ancient glacial Lake Missoula, the valley and its neighboring mountains now provide a home to about 70,000 people.  Located at the confluence of three major rivers (the Clark Fork, the Blackfoot, and the Bitterroot), Missoula lies near one of the main headwaters of the Columbia River watershed.

Missoula has long been a community where writers have studied, gathered, and made their homes, and the Environmental Studies Program at The University of Montana offers a unique graduate program for environmental writers, as well as the student-published environmental literary journal, Camas:The Nature of the West.

Participants in EWI 2012 will have the opportunity to venture into Missoula's neighboring landscapes either by arriving early or staying late--allowing themselves time before and after EWI--and also in the spring afternoons during the conference.  Mid April is a beautiful time to enjoy Missoula's surrounding mountain terrain.  Wildlife can be spotted, frequenting the river corridors and hills around Missoula: red fox, deer, elk, beaver, black bear, pileated woodpecker, owls, eagles, and more. 

Just south of Missoula, the Bitterroot River Valley offers access to inspiring mountain wilderness, some of Montana's premier trout fishing, rock climbing, river floating, and hiking. In addition, both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks are within half a day's driving distance, and the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area can be reached easily by bicycle or city bus from Missoula.


Map of Teller Widllife Refuge - 50 miles south of Missoula


The following links provide further information about the area:

Missoula Chamber of Commerce

Montana Natural History Center

More on Glacial Lake Missoula

The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

Glacier National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Participants' Comments

From Previous Years’ EWI Participants:

“I loved the diversity of writing--geographic diversity, style diversity, topical diversity.”

“This workshop truly changed my life—or at least what I see as the potential of my life.”

“I felt so well taken care of. It has been a great mix of intense work and play.”

“I can’t imagine having a better experience at a writing seminar.”

“Let me come back. Please.”

From 2005 EWI Participants:

"The interaction with other participants and the workshop feedback was invaluable."

"Janisse Ray taught me a whole new way to look at my essay."

"Phil Condon honed in on one of my essay's problem areas and had a good idea for improving it."

"Kim Todd was terrific--so knowledgeable and indefatigable."

From 2003 EWI Participants:

On John Elder: “John was engaged with each person he spoke with, taking time to pursue meaning and thought, asking questions, giving feedback.”

“John truly changed my entire way of thinking about workshops, about the joy of learning, and about environmental writing. I feel a great debt to him.”

From 2002 EWI Participants:

“Bob Pyle offered us so much of his knowledge, insight, and experience. I really appreciated the individual conferences.”

“Bob Pyle took every moment and opportunity as a teaching one. He taught in context—using accurant and important examples. His critiques made each of us feel welcome, smart, and valid.”

“I have worked with dozens of writing instructors, many of them ‘famous’ writers themselves, but no one who was as good as Bob. He not only knows ‘nature’ writing from a scientist’s perspective, he also knows it from an English teacher’s perspective.”

Environmental Writing Institute

Phil Condon