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4-Weeks of Reading Black & Indigenous Nature Lit as Writers

Beyond Cli-Fi: 4 Weeks of Reading Black & Indigenous Nature Lit as Writers

Nature and place have played a central role in literature and in human lives since the beginning. Genres like climate fiction and nature writing have emerged and become more dominant. Despite the profound presence of the natural world in Black lives throughout time—in the American South, in our ancestral African lineage, in our roles as farmers and caretakers of the land—authors of color are not commonly associated with nature or place-based writing. And yet, there is a wealth of Black and Indigenous tradition and writing that centers the natural world as place and character.

In this seven-week, four-session reading group, we will explore four of these seminal efforts (three novels and one memoir), while using each reading as inspiration for our own writing.

Specifically, we will read

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Sula by Toni Morrison

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler

Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo

We will discuss craft decisions each piece incorporates and engage with prompts as we conclude each session with free writing.

Participants are expected to have read Their Eyes Were Watching God before the first session.

Note: Any ‘ Writers’ student can opt in to a 45-minute consultation with the instructor for an additional fee of $105, in which you receive one-on-one feedback on any writing that emerged from the course, including ideas for revision and specific line edits. Please email [email protected] after your final group meeting to arrange a consultation.

Our class platform works best on laptop or desktop computers. Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility. 

Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.  


- Deeper appreciation of the role place and nature serve in literature and the craft strategies literary canons have used to achieve this

- Investigate the opportunities fiction writing provides to decolonize our histories and tell stories we have been discouraged from telling

- Strengthen a community of writers who are pushing themselves to write stories they don’t fully know how to tell, particularly as it relates to nature, ancestors, and our collective but overlooked histories

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Participants must have access to the four assigned books, either as physical copies or e-books

1) Participants will help create a safe space by coming to each session with a willingness to listen and to also share thoughts or questions that might not be fully formed yet

2) Read each book and consider a short list of questions (provided by the facilitator) to help guide them in their reading

3) Bring a willingness to engage with each writing prompt during the last 30 minutes of each session, with the option to post to the class and instructor for brief feedback 


Week 1: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Discussion around evoking the natural world through voice and character development. Writing prompts will explore nature as metaphor and muse.

Week 2: Sula by Toni Morrison. Discussion around the role of place as background and character. Prompts will experiment with writing about place in ways that elicit a deeper sense of nature.

Week 3: Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. Discussion of writing about nature in ways that are not pedantic, sentimental or overbearing. Writing prompts will focus on finding the balance between beauty and disaster.

Week 4: Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo. Discussion of craft strategies for decolonizing our writing and ancestral stories, with an emphasis on oral traditions and poetry. Prompts will experiment with poetry in order to elicit deeper feelings and emotions.  

Benje Williams

Benje has been published in The New York Times, Longreads, Backpacker, Los Angeles Review of Books, San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. He’s working on a nature novel and is represented by Mina Hamedi at Janklow & Nesbit. He’s a Public Voices Fellow with Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication.

He is the Cofounder of Understory (a forest restoration nonprofit), Outlandish (a hiking store in Brooklyn), and Amal Academy (an education venture in Pakistan). 

He grew up in the Sierra Nevada foothills, as the grandson of Southern sharecroppers, and now lives in the Lower East Side.


“I was taken with the sweeping nature of the narrative and the various complex themes Benje interrogates with nuance and intelligence. I fell hard for Zoha’s grandfather and his stories of their ancestral land, as well as the way he plants the love of nature into Zoha’s heart at a very young age, making it clear the duty we have to the earth. Benje clearly illustrates the perils of living in a world in which industry and development is prioritized over the preservation of the natural world, but he never veers too far into the realm of polemics—a feat easier said than done!”

Simon and Schuster Editor

“Benje’s writing is absolutely gorgeous and hypnotizing: I felt like I was reading a song or a folktale, and was totally entranced by the voice.”

Penguin Random House Editor

“Benje is one of the most engaging facilitators I have had. He did not force his opinion on us, but helped invite our own thoughts and emotions out, bringing us to a deeper understanding of the writing and of our own craft.”

Awais Farooq former student

“Benje has an uncanny ability in writing workshops to ask questions that a writer seems to have wished that they would've thought to ask themselves. He is often one of the last to speak and, when he does, it is in the spirit of seeking out the best in his fellow students. He will get so much joy out of sentences, fragments, images or dialogue in other people's writing, and that joy is contagious in the best sense of what the word can do for building community and resistance in all of us.”

Danny Thiemann writing group member