Icebreaker Questions to Begin this Course

As you all proceed, generate your own answers to the global questions of this book:

Key Points

  • How may we enjoy literary works for the joy of this art form?
  • How may we witness its merits as 21st century thinkers?
  • How do literary works help us to learn about sustainability?


Those of us who teach an introduction to literary studies value the cultural norms of storytelling, regardless of whether a story or poem is written or sung, performed live or as a radio show or podcast, featured as a motion picture, or programmed as a game. Many works – ancient ones that were memorized or the books we hold dear – instruct us about how to live, how to be, and how to get through pivotal moments. In this book, several forms of storytelling traditions are interwoven with literary ones to enhance the collective, heterogeneous human undertaking of literature.

Literary traditions have always inspired conversations, whether they are among a specific Indigenous tribe who discuss a dance or among a community who partakes in a religious cult like those led by poet Enheduanna in 2200 BCE, or among the Malinke people of a West African descent who see new performances of their own epic Sundiata, a story about an unlikely king-to-be: the Lion King. We share and talk about stories today, in the past, and will always continue to do so; even create new ones. “Hence it is with a certain feeling of urgency that I seek the nature, the subject, words of the other story, the untold one, the life story” (Ursula K. Le Guin qtd. The Ecocritical Reader 152).

Most literary studies textbooks introduce literature by starting with a general definition. For example, literature is defined as ‘the writing culture of a specific social group, geographic region, and nation.’ Yet, at its broadest scale literature encompasses the world around us.

Literature in all its bureaucracy may be seen as written facts, whether the literature itself is authentic or fictional. Analyzing and reading literature becomes very important in learning about one’s surroundings. Literature offers insights into how society has developed. It also facilitates the recognition of the references made in more modern literature because authors frequently refer to mythology, surroundings, i.e., eco-grievance, traditions, cultures, and so on (Akhter 2022).

To add to this definition, literature is the collective writing culture of a people with elements of oral storytelling traditions. In a community’s efforts to share knowledge and to learn, they coexist – the spoken and written. Oral tradition is an ancient cultural norm whose legacies exist alongside more recent storytelling technologies, like writing, film, blogs, and audio files.

Storytelling traditions – written and oral – may also be aligned with the migratory patterns, agricultural cycles, husbandry, and religious rites of a community – the milieu of a community that interacts with the environment and each other. Literature can also be aligned with the building of edifices and infrastructures, as witnessed by the works from cultures who have built empires.

Literary Studies courses facilitate learners to witness how a people live, relate to, and engage with the environment, cosmos, and each other. The vast scope of literature also enhances learner experiences to make connections between the health of the community and the environment – between social justice and an aspect of sustainability.

Living in the twenty-first century challenges all learners of literature to understand injustices among people and toward the ‘nonhuman’, like forests, oceans, the atmosphere, and subterranean exploration, again as environmental humanist and educator Joni Adamson of Arizona State University argues, “to find ways to understand our cultural and historical differences and similarities, in order to arrive at a better agreement of what the human role in nature is and should be” (Adamson 2001). Intersections emerge between the health of our natural world and ourselves. For example, ways to address these intersections are outlined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG). Literary studies ecocritical learners can make inquiries about problem-solving projects inspired by literature for further study, especially on how their own community’s needs and lived experiences intersect with a theme from a work of literature such as Gender Equality, Innovative Infrastructure, Life on Land, Peace & Justice, Quality Education, Reducing Inequality, Sustainable Consumption & Production. *An example of a group activity: NECC, New England & Saclay University, Paris.

“We share and talk about stories today, in the past, and will always continue to do so; even create new ones. ‘Hence it is with a certain feeling of urgency that I seek the nature, the subject, words of the other story, the untold one, the life story’ (Ursula K. Le Guin qtd. The Ecocritical Reader 152).”

Dr. Puchner in The Norton Anthology of World Literature reminds us that all works of literature offer us the “world reshaped by human hands.” So, let’s begin by inquiring about a people from thousands of years ago whose dreams and ideas, and even emotions, we can read today because their works have been preserved in one of several writing technologies.

Ancient texts that have been found and preserved, in many cases by sheer luck.

As you all are challenged in this book to learn of the merits and roles of literary texts,

  • Take notes – annotate – on the content of what you read and include your personal reflections.
  • Realize that all literature depends on community.
  • So, ask questions like, ‘who were these people’ and ‘when were they writing such stories’?
  • And, most importantly, ask ’Why did they write these ideas down?’


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Literary Studies For A Sustainable Future Copyright © 2024 by Lisette Helena Assia Espinoza is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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