Associate Director of the Pre-Major Program and Discovery Core

B.A. English and History, University of California Santa Barbara
M.A. English Language and Literature, University of Chicago
Ph.D. English Language and Literature, University of Chicago
Office: Husky Hall 1316
Phone: 773-350-8364
Email: jenwren@uw.edu
Mailing: Box 358530, 18115 Campus Way NE, Bothell, WA 98011-8246


Area of focus: Environmental Humanities

My teaching explores the intersection between American Literature, Culture, and Environmental Studies.

I believe that developing a more sustainable relation with the biotic community is both a science and an art.  While disciplinary boundaries can encourage us to frame environmental crisis as a scientific problem requiring technological solutions, I ask students to consider how social values and practices arise out of our imaginative lives -- and specifically how literature, philosophy and the arts shape environmental thought, both past and present.

My classes emphasize integrative learning: studies in literary analysis and environmental ethics are enhanced by service learning, collaboration with community organizations and other field experiences throughout the Puget Sound region. This integrative experience allows students to directly engage with -- and draw connections between -- the political, professional, aesthetic and experiential dimensions of our relations to a more-than-human world.

Fiction and creative nonfiction remain the primary objects of inquiry in my teaching, but all of my courses take an interdisciplinary approach to literary and environmental studies, drawing on works from critical theory, philosophy, ecocriticism, history, urban studies and works of environmental advocacy. This broadly inclusive approach allows students to examine different forms of spatial imagination and different material environments—from forests and frontiers to inner cities, tenement buildings and the fantasy spaces of science fiction—as they relate to problems of class, race and displacement, gender, memory, and literary form.

Recent Courses Taught

BIS 345 American Environmental Thought
BIS 356 Ethics and the Environment
BIS 371 Twentieth-Century American Literature
BCUSP 134 Interdisciplinary Writing: “The Ecology & Politics of Food”
BCUSP 187 Introduction to Literary Analysis
BCUSP 104 Place & Displacement in the Americas: Human Rights, Culture and Ethnicity 
BCUSP 118 Environmental Ethics and Literature
BIS 499 IAS Portfolio Capstone
BIS 361 Studies in American Literature: “Place & Environment”
BCUSP 135 Research Writing: “Agri/cultures: Problems in Surplus, Scarcity & Sustainability”
BISSKL 375 Academic Research and Writing Seminar
BIS 393 Special Topics: “Environmental Thought & Literature”


While my early research focused on more traditional nature-writing and environmental narrative, I have increasingly turned to the literary geographies of everyday experience. I am currently at work on a book that examines American garden writing – and the real life practices it celebrates – as a kind of fantasy genre that draws forth desires for less alienated forms of work, a sense of connection to place and the biological processes that sustain us, ways of imagining value beyond capitalist commodification, a more measured pace of daily life, and hope for our planet’s future.  My project examines a wide variety of cultural texts, from popular garden books and environmental writing to literary fiction and nonfiction (works by Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, Willa Cather, John Steinbeck, Jamaica Kincaid, John McPhee, Leslie Marmon Silko, Alice Walker and more), works of “guerilla gardeners” and urban activists, Hollywood film, gardening advertisements and popular science fiction by Kim Stanley Robinson, Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler and Margaret Atwood.  As I show in my analysis of these texts, gardens allow us to inhabit modes of thought and practice otherwise suspended in daily life; as such, they have an uncanny ability to throw into relief the failures and frustrations characterizing everyday experience in the office, factory and home, in shopping centers, city streets and cyberspace. 

Selected Publications

“Multi-Sensory Experience and Environmental Encounter: Rethinking the Sustainability of Humanities Education.” Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, Vol. 16, Nos. 2/3/4 (2015), 253–266. 

“Comedies of Surplus.” Earth Perfect? Nature, Utopia, and the Garden. Ed. Annette Giesecke and Naomi Jacobs. London: Black Dog Publishing (2012), 258-271.

“Seeds of Change: The New Place of Gardens in Contemporary Utopia.” Utopian Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2 (2007), 237-260.


Associate Director of the First-Year Program and Discovery Core, UW Bothell