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Our 2017 Siskiyou Prize judge is Jonathan Balcombe

We are thrilled to announce that our 2017 Siskiyou Prize judge is Jonathan Balcombe.

Jonathan’s most recent book is the New York Times bestseller What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of our Underwater Cousins, an extraordinary journey underwater that reveals the vast capabilities of fishes. He is also the author of the books The Exultant Ark, Second Nature, Pleasurable Kingdom, and The Use of Animals in Higher Education.

Jonathan has three biology degrees, including a PhD in ethology (the study of animal behavior) from the University of Tennessee, and has published more than 50 scientific papers on animal behavior and animal protection. Formerly department chair for Animal Studies with the Humane Society University and senior research scientist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Jonathan is currently Director of Animal Sentience with the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy in Washington, DC. Learn more at jonathan-balcombe.com.

This year marks our fourth annual Siskiyou Prize, and we are delighted to be offering a $1,000 prize and a four-week writing residency thanks to the generosity of our amazing prize partner PLAYA. All manuscripts submitted for the prize will be considered for publication by Ashland Creek Press.

Please visit the Siskiyou Prize website for complete details about the prize — submissions open September 1, 2017. We look forward to reading your work!

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Announcing the winner & finalists of the 2016 Siskiyou Prize!

We are delighted to announce the winner of the 2016 Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature: Katy Yocom, for her novel THREE WAYS TO DISAPPEAR.

Judge JoeAnn Hart writes, “THREE WAYS TO DISAPPEAR begins with a focused lens on the endangered Bengal tiger then expands its reach with every page to reveal the interconnectedness of the natural world and fragility of all life. Weaving together the worn threads of ecological balance, this ambitious and moving novel addresses scarcity, climate change, family dynamics, cultural conflict, human accountability, women’s economic autonomy, and most of all, love, in all its wondrous forms. This is a story not just about saving the tigers, but ourselves.”

Katy Yocom was born and raised in Atchison, Kansas. After graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism, she moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where she has lived ever since. Her fiction, poetry, essays, and journalism have appeared in Salon.com, The Louisville Review, decomP magazinE, StyleSubstanceSoul, and Louisville Magazine, among other publications.

In conducting research for her novel, THREE WAYS TO DISAPPEAR, she traveled to India, funded by a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. She has also been awarded grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Arts Council and has served as writer-in-residence at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Crosshatch Hill House, and Hopscotch House. Her short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her poetry has been translated into Bulgarian. She holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University.

She lives with her husband in Louisville, Kentucky, where she helps direct Spalding’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. Learn more about Katy on her website and via Facebook.

As the Siskiyou Prize winner, Katy will receive a four-week residency at PLAYA and a $1,000 cash prize.

It was a very competitive contest this year, and we would also like to congratulate the finalists and semifinalists:

FINALISTS

Small Small Redemption: Essays by Sangamithra Iyer

The Heart of the Sound: A memoir by Marybeth Holleman (published by Bison Books)

Song of the Ghost Dog: A YA novel by Sharon Piuser

SEMIFINALISTS

Karstland: A novel by Caroline Manring

Rumors of Wolves: A novel by C.K. Adams

The Harp-Maker of Exmoor: A novel by Hazel Prior

Thanks to everyone who submitted and to everyone who writes with the goal of making this world a better place. And please stay tuned for announcements for the next Siskiyou Prize!

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Book Review: What a Fish Knows by Jonathan Balcombe

It’s difficult to think of another title that is more important to the oceans—and therefore to the earth’s entire ecosystem—than What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins by Jonathan Balcombe. Not only does Balcombe introduce us to the fascinating, complex lives of these sentient creatures, he shows us how devastatingly we are treating them, to the point of endangerment and extinction.

While fishes aren’t usually at the top of the list of animals that elicit human sympathy (“We hear no screams and see no tears when their mouths are impaled and their bodies pulled from the water”), Balcombe writes that it is only because of their differences that we do not see their suffering: “Crying out in pain is as ineffective for a fish in air as crying out in pain is for us when we are submerged.” Fishes do feel pain, of course; they just express it in very different ways, and we must adjust our way of thinking in order to see it and acknowledge it.

And of course, fishes feel so much more than pain; What a Fish Knows is divided into sections about what a fish perceives, feels, thinks, and knows as well as how it breeds and how it suffers. (Balcombe chooses to use the word fishes rather than fish to acknowledge that they are individuals with personalities and relationships.)

Each section in this book is more interesting and engaging than the last, with information on the habits, abilities, and perceptions of many of the 30,000 species of fishes in our waters. The facts about fishes’ uniqueness and diversity are fascinating in themselves—for example, that ocean sunfishes carry 300 million eggs while sharks reproduce via one live birth at a time—but what’s most interesting are the scientific and anecdotal stories of how alike fishes are to other animals, shattering any misconceptions readers may have about fishes being dull or unperceiving. In fact, Balcombe writes, “A small squid can learn mazes faster than dogs do, and a small goby fish can memorize in one trial the topography of a tide pool by swimming over it at high tide—a feat few if any humans could achieve.”

Fishes not only have excellent hearing (which makes them sensitive to human-generated underwater noise), they can tell the difference between classical music and the blues. Their keen sense of smell allows them recognize one another and warn other fishes of danger. They have more taste buds than any other animal, and they enjoy the touch of one another and of humans, as Balcombe shows in several anecdotes, including one about a fish who “even rolls side to side to be petted properly, as a dog or pig will do.”

In addition, What a Fish Knows portrays the ways in which fishes form close bonds (goldfishes, for example, should never live alone in a bowl or tank), as well as how they learn, play, parent, form relationships, and problem solve. They have good memories and express flexibility, curiosity, determination. They cooperate and they deceive.

Of note in this book is something that is all too frequently missing from other books about animals’ sentience: the irony of the impact of the scientific experiments that prove to us that these animals experience the range of emotions that they do. As Balcombe writes, “Fishes show the hallmarks of pain both physiologically and behaviorally,” and he acknowledges the cruelty of the experiments fishes endure for us to gain this knowledge. He writes of the “pain, distress, and ensuing disorientation caused by blinding salmon” and assures us, after one experiment, that “the surgeonfishes were returned to their homes on the reef.”

Perhaps the most important part of this book, especially after reading everything up to this point, is the section on humans’ exploitation of fishes—not just because it is shocking but because we have the power to change it. The number of fishes killed by humans each year is between 1 and 2.7 trillion (which does not include the great numbers of fishes caught illegally, recreationally, as bycatch, in “ghost nets,” or as feed for fish farms). After learning so much about the individual personalities of fishes, this number is especially staggering.

And, Balcombe points out, the fishes “do not die nicely.” They are crushed to death in nets; they are suffocated; they suffer decompression, in which the esophagus turns inside out, the eyes bulge from their orbits, organs are displaced, and hemorrhaging occurs, among other horrors. Fishes raised in captivity fare no better—they are electrocuted or decapitated and left to bleed out. Even if the amount of toxins in fishes (“Fish flesh is the most contaminated of all foods”) isn’t enough to prevent one from eating fishes after learning about their emotional, intellectual, and social lives, the brutal practices of an industry that subjects them to such torture should offer more than enough incentive.

Balcombe also addresses the fact that recreational fishing and farmed fishing are not better alternatives to the commercial fishing industry, as well as the problems of “ghost nets” (the up to 640,000 tons of netting and other equipment lost by fishing boats) and “bycatch” (those fishes and other animals caught unintentionally by the fishing industry). The main victims of ghost nets are dolphins, seals, turtles, and seabirds, and bycatch (whose victims include seabirds, whales, seals, and penguins) is responsible for 40 percent of the global fish catch. All of these animals are, because they are unwanted, thrown away. Because we have reduced predatory fishes (the ones humans like to eat) by more than two-thirds, Balcombe likens eating fishes to eating wildlife, and he quotes Sylvia Earle: “Think of everything in the fish market as bush meat. These are the eagles, the owls, the lions, the tigers, the snow leopards, the rhinoceroses of the ocean.”

This powerful, accessible book will ensure that we never look at a fish the same way again, whether it’s a pet or one in the sea—and it will certainly inspire us to keep them off our plates.

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Call for Submissions: Zoomorphic

The magazine Zoomorphic seeks submissions for its upcoming anthology of oceanic life.

We are currently inviting submissions of poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, conservation journalism and art for our first printed anthology. The book will be launched on 2nd December at a Zoomorphic event hosted by ONCA as part of their “Do You Speak Seagull” season. The printed anthology will be themed around marine wildlife and will accompany our digital issue. Submissions are invited for both formats. The launch event will include a display of Zoomorphic graphics and art as well as audio poems and sound recordings. 

The deadline for poetry is September 16; the deadline for prose (both fiction and nonfiction) is October 10.

For complete guidelines, click here.

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Book Review: Lab Girl

Lab Girl

I approached Hope Jahren’s memoir, Lab Girl, with a bit of trepidation. You see, Jahren is an award-winning geobiologist who studies plants, making her area of expertise one in which I’ve never had much interest. (Confession: I can’t tell an oak from a maple or a peony from a petunia.) So when The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani wrote that Lab Girl “does for botany what Oliver Sacks’ essays did for neurology,” I was persuaded to pick up the book. I’m glad I did, for Lab Girl is as much a paean to self-discovery and enduring friendship as it is an illuminating introduction to the life of plants.

Hope Jahren grew up in rural Minnesota. As a young girl, she spent her days with her mother, the two immersed in literature and poetry as her mother worked toward a bachelor’s degree in English literature. She spent her evenings with her father, playing in his laboratory at the community college where, for more than four decades, he taught introductory physics and earth science. The lab was her father’s sanctuary, and it became Jahren’s, too. So strong was its pull that, even as an adolescent, she knew that one day she, too, would have a lab of her own. Today, that lab is in Honolulu, at the University of Hawaii, where Jahren is a tenured professor.

Jahren interweaves the story of her coming of age as a research scientist with chapters on the life-cycle of plants. These latter chapters—devoted to trees and flowers, seeds and soil—are as information-rich as they are engagingly written. I will likely never forget this discussion of the relationship between trees and mushrooms, which, Jahren writes, are “the best—and really only—friends that trees have ever had.”

“You may think a mushroom is a fungus. This is exactly like believing that a penis is a man. Every toadstool, from the deliciously edible to the deathly poisonous, is merely a sex organ that is attached to something more whole, complex, and hidden. Underneath every mushroom is a web of stringy hyphae that may extend for kilometers, wrapping around countless clumps of soil and holding the landscape together. The ephemeral mushroom appears briefly above the surface while the webbing that anchors it lives for years within a darker and richer world. A very small minority of these fungi—just five thousand species—have strategically entered into a deep and enduring truce with plants. They cast their stringy webbing around and through the roots of trees, sharing the burden of drawing water into the trunk. They also mine the soil for rare metals, such as manganese, copper, and phosphorous, and then present them to the trees as precious gifts of the magi.”

Jahren relays her personal story through prose that is just as evocative. With brutal honesty lightened by moments of humor, she reveals her complicated relationship with her mother, her battle with manic depression, and the challenges facing research scientists who are forever seeking the funding that is the lifeblood of their work. (“Ask a science professor what she worries about. It won’t take long. She’ll look you in the eye and say one word: “Money.””) For Jahren, though, there is the additional challenge of being a female in a male-dominated field. When she becomes pregnant and is banned from her lab, she breaks down—and then fights back the only way she knows how: “After five o’clock when everyone in the building has gone home for the day, I … sneak into the lab. I cannot do anything productive, but I instinctively resist the cruelty of my department chair’s order by staging a sort of one-woman pregnant sit-in.”

Always in Jahren’s labs—at times, literally, living in them—is Bill Hagopian, Jahren’s best friend and lab manager. The two cross continents together, rummaging for plant life in places as far away as the North Pole. It’s Bill, himself brilliant and carrying his own emotional baggage, who helps Jahren through her manic episodes and who relocates with her as she moves from university to university trying to secure tenure. Theirs is a love story without sex or sexual tension, for their relationship is grounded in an almost religious devotion to the science they do in the laboratories they build.

If Lab Girl has a purpose beyond being an educational and engrossing read, it is to raise readers’ awareness of the natural world in all its beauty and strength and fragility. “As a rule,” Jahren observes, “people live among plants but they don’t really see them.” She “can see little else.” And she is concerned about their future. So, Jahren closes her book with a plea to readers to plant a tree, to care for it, and to watch it grow. “Every day, you can look at your tree, watch what it does, and try to see the world from its perspective.”

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The 2014 Siskiyou Prize Winner & Finalists…

Ashland Creek Press is delighted to announce that New York Times bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler has chosen Mary Heather Noble’s memoir PLUMES: ON CONTAMINATION OF HOME AND HABITAT as the winner of the 2014 Siskiyou Prize.

We are also delighted to announce the prize finalists: Amy Hassinger for her novel AFTER THE DAM and Julie Christine Johnson for her novel THE CROWS OF BEARA.

Of PLUMES, judge Karen Joy Fowler writes: “I was impressed from the first page with both the beautiful writing and careful intelligence of PLUMES. This book takes on one of our most troubling issues, the increasing toxicity of our polluted world, to create a narrative that is both personal and universal. PLUMES neither minimizes the complexities of these issues nor overstates its conclusions, but leaves the reader with much to think about. An exceptional book.”

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About the winner: Mary Heather Noble is an environmental scientist and writer whose work is inspired by environmental health issues, the natural world, family, and place. Her essays have been honored with first prize in Creative Nonfiction’s The Human Face of Sustainability Contest, and second prize in the 2012 Literal Latté Essay Awards. Her writing has also appeared or is forthcoming in About Place Journal, Fourth Genre, High Desert Journal, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Minerva Rising, Pithead Chapel, and Utne Reader.

Noble is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing Program with the University of Southern Maine. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in geology from The Ohio State University, and a master’s degree in environmental science from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She spent six years working in the technical environmental sector before leaving the field to pursue creative writing. Noble currently lives in Bend, Oregon, with her husband and two daughters.

We hope you join us in celebrating the environmentally themed work of these fine writers!

We’d also like to extend a very special thanks to all of the writers who entered the contest … your support makes this prize possible.

Please stay tuned for updates on next year’s Siskiyou Prize, which is open to unpublished, full-length prose manuscripts, including novels, memoirs, short story collections, and essay collections. The winner will receive a cash award of $1,000, a residency at PLAYA, and an offer of publication by Ashland Creek Press. For more information, visit the Siskiyou Prize website.

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Siskiyou Prize update – new award, extended deadline

The winner of the Siskiyou Prize, in addition to a cash prize of $1,000 and book publication, will also receive a four-week residency at the PLAYA retreat in central Oregon.

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PLAYA is a nonprofit organization supporting innovative thinking through work in the arts, literature, natural sciences, and other fields of creative inquiry. On the edge of the Great Basin in central Oregon, PLAYA offers creative individuals the space, the solitude, and the community to reflect and to engage their work.

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The winner of the Siskiyou Prize will receive a four-week residency at PLAYA, which provides private lodging in a fully equipped cabin with kitchen/living room, a place to write, and two dinners a week (Mondays & Thursdays) with a cohort of residents, at no charge. (Transportation and other meals are not included.)

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PLAYA allows uninterrupted time and solitude amidst a spectacular landscape — the perfect recipe for environmental literature.  The prize deadline has been extended to October 15, 2014, so that more writers have an opportunity to submit.

Please visit The Siskiyou Prize and PLAYA for more information, and feel free to contact Ashland Creek Press with questions.

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Karen Joy Fowler wins 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award

We are thrilled to hear the news that Karen Joy Fowler (our judge for this year’s Siskiyou Prize) is the winner of the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for her amazing novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.

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As the Washington Post writes, “With its disturbing portrayal of the abuse that chimps endure, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves … makes a strong argument against using these intelligent animals in academic and medical research. Fowler worked on the novel for more than a decade, but happily, just days after it was published, the federal government began the process of declaring chimpanzees an endangered species, a move that would prohibit their use in invasive medical testing.”

This novel exemplifies the type of work that inspires us most — beautiful, engaging, literary stories that flawlessly weave in issues that are vitally important. Congratulations to Karen for such well-deserved recognition!

Read more about the PEN/Faulkner Awards here.

Read a review of Karen’s novel here.

Read about the Siskiyou Prize here.

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Opportunity for writers: The Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature

Ashland Creek Press has just announced its new book award, The Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature. The 2014 prize will be judged by New York Times bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler, whose most recent book is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. (Check out Shel Graves’ review of the book here.)

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The contest is open to unpublished, full-length prose manuscripts, including novels, memoirs, short story collections, and essay collections. The winner will receive a cash award of $1,000 and publication by Ashland Creek Press. The submission deadline is September 30, 2014. For complete writers’ guidelines, click here.

New environmental literature” refers to literary works that focus on the environment, animal protection, ecology, and wildlife. The prize seeks work that redefines our notions of environmentalism and sustainability, particularly when it comes to animal protection. The award isn’t for books about hunting, fishing, or eating animals—unless they are analogous to a good anti-war novel being all about war. Under these basic guidelines, however, the prize will be open to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction with environmental and animal themes.

The Siskiyou Prize is named for the Klamath-Siskiyou region of northern California and southern Oregon, one of the most diverse eco-regions in the world. Considered a global center of biodiversity, the Klamath-Siskiyou region is an inspiring example of the importance of preservation.

Prize judge Karen Joy Fowler is the New York Times bestselling author of three short story collections and six novels, most recently We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Her books’ honors and awards include two New York Times Notable Books, the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction, the Commonwealth medal for best first novel by a Californian, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Bay Area Book Reviewers Prize, and the World Fantasy Award.

For more information, click here, or visit the Ashland Creek Press submissions page.

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Announcing the Bear Deluxe Magazine Doug Fir Fiction Award

Calling all fiction writers: Save the date (September 3 deadline) for submissions to the Bear Deluxe Magazine Doug Fir Fiction Award, co-sponsored by the Sitka Center for Art & Ecology, Ashland Creek Press, and Hawthorne Books.

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Please see below for complete guidelines, and you can also click here for details and more info.

The Bear Deluxe Magazine welcomes submissions of previously unpublished short stories up to 5,000 words, relating to a sense of place or the natural world, interpreted as broadly or narrowly as the author defines.

Entry Fee: $15

Word limit: 5,000

Deadline: September 3, 2013

Grand Prize: $1,000, writer’s residency at Sitka Center for Art & Ecology, national publication, and manuscript review

Finalists: Manuscript review, recognition, publication consideration

Award Judge: Lidia Yuknavitch’s most recent books include Dora: A Headcase, a novel, and The Chronology of Water: A Memoir. She is also the author of three works of short fiction (Her Other Mouths, Liberty’s Excess, and Real to Reel) and as well as a book of literary criticism, Allegories of Violence.

Co-sponsor: Sitka Center for Art & Ecology

Associate sponsors: Ashland Creek Press and Hawthorne Books (Ashland Creek Press and Hawthorne Books will provide manuscript review for one story of the author’s choice from award winner and finalists).

For complete guidelines, visit www.orlo.org or email bear@orlo.org (website is under redesign).