Christopher Comer, Dean
Director of Environmental Studies, Professor
ENST 335L: The Environmental Vision, offered each fall, variable readings.
ENST 373A: Nature Works, workshop class, offered each spring.
ENST 505: Literature of Nature Writing, offered each spring, variable topics & readings.
ENST 573: Environmental Writing, workshop class, offered each fall.
ENST 594: Publishing: The Next Steps, offered each Spring
All the paths of formal education have led me to one place: teaching writing. My undergraduate work for a BA in Writing ranged from poetry to technical writing. My terminal Creative Writing degree is an MFA in Fiction, with Bill Kittredge as my mentor, and my MS degree in Environmental Studies emphasized nonfiction Environmental Writing. I've taught writing to graduates and undergraduates in EVST and English at UM, to low-residency MFA candidates at Spalding University in Louisville KY, and to children, high-schoolers, university freshmen, and citizen writers in several communities. Beyond age, interest, or genre, the basics remain: I try to learn as much as I teach; writing is a craft best learned in the doing; inspiration, encouragement, and hard work are the sun, water, and soil of the experience. The shape of the best writing classes I lead is a circle; the quality of the workshop conversation I aspire to is Buddhist Right Speech: being kind, truthful, and helpful--all equally and at once. No easy task, and maybe never fully achievable, but well worth the attempt.
The roads of my informal education likewise converge: sauntering to the rhythms of those different drummers. As a 19-year-old college dropout and a 37-year-old returning sophomore, I was a non-traditional student, and as a professor who only started teaching full time after 50, I hope I'm a non-traditional teacher. As a young man I practiced a manual, itinerant trade--brick work--and I loved its elemental simplicity: take sand, water, clay, steel, and add the human hand. I lived for 5 years without electricity on the Niangua River in the Missouri Ozarks, pumping water on a bicycle, gardening and composting a quarter acre, walking and sitting amid the oak-hickory forest. A Missoula resident for 31 years, I wake each day grateful for the living place around us and wide aware of the diverse challenges to the beyond-human and human worlds.
Pomona College, Claremont CA, 1965-67
Missouri State University, Springfield MO BA in Writing, 1987
U of MT, MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction,1989
U of MT, MS in Environmental Studies, emphasis Environmental Writing, 2000
Environmental and nature writing of all kinds, but first and best work with wild heart: I think of Craig Childs, Linda Hogan, Merrill Gilfillan, Paul Kingsnorth, William Stafford, Derrick Jensen, Rebecca Solnit, Charles Bowden, Kristen Iverson, David Duncan, Ellen Meloy, Meridel LeSueur, Thomas Merton, Loren Eiseley, Thoreau, W.S. Merwin, Cormac McCarthy, John Haines, JG Ballard -- off the top of my head and the tip of the berg -- tomorrow I'll have another list. The biodiversity of writing only grows, and it calls us back to the quiet, delicate, ferocious world beyond our doors and gives us strength to work to make the world we find and the society we build more equitable, healthy, heartfelt, and sustainable.
True words take many forms: a beacon, a reminder, a touchstone, an anthem, a bleached bone, a call to hearts. The clearest, toughest tasks for environmentalists are in the field, labs, classrooms, boardrooms, and voting halls, but writing works among them all--deep and slow, like water. Across years and borders, words work--think of Thoreau, Muir, Austin, Leopold, Carson, Abbey, and Dillard. Raging rivers, no doubt, but they swell from creeks, streams, and rivulets, too. As I teach writing, I try to encourage and channel anyone who wants their words to join the flow and help turn the tide.
Field of Study
Environmental/Nature Writing, Readings, Literature, Thought.
Nine Ten Again, stories. Elixir Press, Denver CO 2009.
Montana Surround: Land, Water, Nature, Place, essays. Johnson Bks, Boulder CO 2004.
Clay Center, a novel. EWU Press, Spokane WA 2004.
River Street, stories. SMU Press, Dallas TX 1994.
Essays & Stories in High Desert Journal, Northern Lights, Big Sky Journal, Shenandoah, The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Epoch, CutBank, and many other journals and anthologies.
Faculty Member of the Year, 2015: Montana Education Association--Montana Federation of Teachers (MEA-MFT)
Robert T. Pantzer Presidential Humanitarian Award, 2009, University of MT Sustainability Advocate of the Year 2009, Missoula Sustainable Business Council
Nine Ten Again selected for Elixir Press 2008 National Fiction Award
Clay Center named one of 10 Best First Novels of 2004 by the American Library Association
Montana Surround: National Finalist: Mid-List Bks & River Teeth Creative Nonfiction Book Contests, 2003
Clay Center: Faulkner Society of New Orleans, National Creative Wrtg Competition, Novel Award, 2001
Environmental Studies Program
Area of Expertise
Creative Nonfiction; Fiction; Nature/Environmental Writing and Literature
My twin passions sometimes seem a single paradox: written language and beyond-human nature. Yet as Rilke said about living the questions, why not live the paradox? Explore a sentence, delighting in its tropes and tensions; watch a plant grow, speechless before the power in its buds and blooms; wander a forest, laughing between its shadows and sunshine. Yes: the world is hurt, and yet it helps us beyond all pain. Read, write, walk, revise: healing, changing, insisting on the fairer vision. Our voices stutter, even shatter, and yet we can still sing.
Chair Director Departments
Selected recent publications include "Coal Dream Crossing," in Fact & Fiction Missoula Writers Anthology, 2014; "Tanks" in The Georgia Review, 2010, "Nine Ten Again" in Shenandoah, 2009.
Selected recent readings include Prairie Songs 2017, Missoula MT; High Plains Book Festival, Billings, MT; ASLE National Conference, Moscow ID, 2015; UM Second Wind 2016 & 2015; Watershed Education Network in 2013, UM Wilderness Lecture Series Reading 2012, War & Peace Community Reading and UM Second Wind Reading in Missoula in 2011.
Visit Phil Condon's author page on Amazon for biography and bibliography.
ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature & Environment)
AWP (Associated Writing Programs)
ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)
CFC (Clark Fork Coalition) (Board of Directors 2001-2009)
MACLC (Missoula Area Central Labor Council) Executive Board Trustee
UFA (University Faculty Association) Past President, VP, & Chief Contract Negotiator