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Robin Wall Kimmerer to Receive 2021 Thoreau Prize

CONCORD, MA (July 1, 2021) – The Thoreau Society announced today that the botanist and best-selling author Robin Wall Kimmerer will receive the 2021 Thoreau Prize for Excellence in Nature Writing. The $2,500 prize and commemorative gift will be awarded in Concord, Massachusetts, on October 29, as part of the Concord Festival of Authors.

On July 10 during its annual conference, the society will also honor the 2020 Thoreau Prize winner, the conservationist, author and internationally recognized field biologist George Schaller. The awarding of the prize last July was cancelled due to the pandemic. This year’s conference of the 80-year-old society devoted to Thoreau will be held virtually.

Kimmerer, a forest ecologist, and advocate for the rights of native peoples, is the author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. She is a professor of environmental biology at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry of the State University of New York and is the founder and director of its Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.

Braiding Sweetgrass weaves together indigenous Native American and traditional Western scientific ways of looking at nature. The Thoreau Prize committee noted that its focus on the reciprocal and ethical relationship between people and plants captured the spirit of Thoreau’s nature writing. Braiding Sweetgrass became a New York Times Bestseller in January 2020, seven years after Milkweed Editions published it in 2013.

A specialist in mosses and the author of numerous scientific articles, Kimmerer describes herself on her website first as a mother, then as a scientist, professor and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her first book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, won the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing. In 2015 she addressed the general assembly of the United Nations on a central theme of both her work and of Thoreau’s writing, “Healing Our Relationship with Nature.”

The German-born Schaller, one of the world’s preeminent field biologists, is a wildlife researcher specializing in mammals. His books include The Year of the Gorilla, The Serengeti Lion, which won a National Book Award, The Last Panda, and Tibet’s Hidden Wilderness. Schaller has received National Geographic’s Lifetime Achievement Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the World Wildlife Fund Gold Medal for promoting understanding and the conserving of endangered species.

The Henry David Thoreau Prize for Excellence in Nature Writing was established as an annual award in 2010 by Dale Peterson to honor a writer of fiction, nonfiction or poetry whose work embodies Thoreau’s legacy as a gifted stylist, keen naturalist and social thinker. The Thoreau Society became administrator of the prize last year.

It is named for Thoreau, who wrote, “I wish to speak a word for nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil” and who said one of his aims was to “regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.”

It is given as a lifetime achievement award or to honor mid-career nature writers of exceptional promise. Previous winners of the Thoreau Prize have included the poets Mary Oliver and Gary Snyder, the author-naturalists Sy Montgomery, Peter Matthiessen, Diane Ackerman and Gretel Ehrlich, the poet, novelist and essayist Linda Hogan, biologist E.O. Wilson and the ecologist and nature writer Bernd Heinrich.

The Thoreau Society is the oldest and largest independent author society in the nation.

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Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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