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Wading Midstream: A Cultural Study of Fly Fishing in North American Literature

Cory G Willard, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Fly fishing has produced an unusually large body of literary works, both fiction and nonfiction, yet scholars, even ecocritics, have given it minimal attention. In this dissertation I construct an ecocritically focused literary and cultural analysis of North American fly fishing literature and interpret fly fishers as politically active stakeholders in ongoing discussions related to issues such as the preservation of native species, the protection of public lands, the affective power of nature, and the commodification of the environment. The interdisciplinary nature of this examination highlights the complex set of interconnections among embodied activities like fly fishing and historical and contemporary conservation, environmental culture, and advocacy. I argue that fly fishing literature represents a body of works that showcase an ethical and ecological conception of the human place in nature. Chapters follow a thematic approach addressing a range of important considerations within the scope of ecocriticism. Centering on topics such as ecological and environmental rhetoric, ecofeminism, environmental ethics, and the Anthropocene I establish how the fly fishing community and fly fishing authors grapple with serious commitments to issues such as political activism, inclusivity, our responsibilities to non-human animals, and what place fly fishing might have in the changing world of the twenty-first century as we move further into the Anthropocene. Through these approaches, I demonstrate the ways that fly fishing represents a place-conscious ethic that creates social communities that promote environmental stewardship and political action. In this dissertation I provide a critique of fly fishing literature while also making the case that it is a rich genre worth studying. It is not enough, I argue, for ecocritical scholars to theorize ever more abstract ways of imagining or interacting with the more-than-human world, rather they must also engage more seriously with cultural activities—like fly fishing—that citizens regularly participate in.

Subject Area

Literature|American literature

Recommended Citation

Willard, Cory G, "Wading Midstream: A Cultural Study of Fly Fishing in North American Literature" (2020). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI28031538.