State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Spring Workshop Explores New Modes of Environmental Storytelling

people on the beach and in a boat at sunset
The workshop will discuss how “landscape” is not a phenomenon that exists without the presence of culture. Photo: Peggy_Marco

The American landscape has long been misconstrued as natural and untouched. A new crop of contemporary writers recognizes the rich and layered cultural practices that constitute this vast land as well as the complex play between human and non-human elements.

‘Writing Cultural Landscapes’ is a six-week, not-for-credit workshop offered through the Climate School for all Columbia affiliates who want to explore the intertwined crises of environment and equity. It will introduce students to unconventional environmental texts and encourage them to use the lessons and ideas gathered in their own short pieces.

Through in-class readings, writing prompts, and exercises, students should walk away with their own place-based reading lists, a glossary of hyper-local words, and plenty of ideas for how to continue writing about their chosen landscapes.

Classes will be led by Lynnette Widder, who teaches community resilience and sustainable architecture in the Earth Institute’s Sustainability Management program, and Darby Minow Smith, a long-time environmental journalist and an MFA candidate in Columbia’s creative writing program.

The collaboration has already sparked excitement over the possibilities of environmental storytelling. “Lynnette has such a fresh way of looking at landscapes,” said Smith, who also teaches undergrad creative writing at Columbia. “She doesn’t just look to write; she looks to measure and test assumptions. It’s made me realize how important it is to collaborate across fields and schools. This is shaping up to be a creative writing class like none other.”

Classes will be held over Zoom from 2-4 p.m. on Thursdays starting on March 3 for a six-week period (including a self-directed prompt for spring break). To apply: The class is open to ALL current Columbia and Barnard students, affiliates, faculty, and staff, and alumni. Those interested should send an email to Widder ( and Smith (

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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