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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

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, 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:


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


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: Stories from the Leopold Shack by Estella Leopold

Reviewed by James Ballowe, Engagement Advisor for the Center for Humans and Nature and Distinguished Professor English Emeritus from Bradley University.

In Stories from the Leopold Shack: Sand County Revisited, Estella Leopold takes her readers on an intimate journey into that now-fabled place to which her father introduced the world in A Sand County Almanac (Oxford University Press, 1949). The site in central Wisconsin close to Baraboo that Aldo and now his daughter Estella have chronicled is where Aldo, his wife Estella Bergere, and their five children spent their summers. They lived in a once-abandoned farm shack, where they worked together to restore the land upon which it sat—land they found to be despoiled by decades of agricultural malpractice. The site remains today a monument to what was Aldo Leopold’s idea of ecological restoration, and it is living testimony to what Leopold’s formulation of the “Land Ethic” can bring about.

In her “Acknowledgments” Estella explains that the book began as a project in reminiscing. To occupy herself during long flights to Wisconsin from the West Coast where she lived and taught, Estella began to record stories she remembered from her childhood summers at the Shack. Of the Leopold’s five children, she was the youngest. And by the time her father was completing and revising A Sand County Almanac in the 1940s, her older siblings were in college. She often spent her adolescent summers at the Shack as the only companion of her parents.

Following the first chapter introducing the reconstruction of the Shack, Estella writes four chapters of stories taking place in the seasons of the year, following the general direction of her father’s book. These chapters offer memories of her time as a young girl when Estella came to know the treasures the land had to offer to her and her family. Like her father, she is a close observer of the minute. Here is an account of an early summer morning:

The family ritual started with Dad getting up very quietly, sometimes as early as 4:00 a.m., or even 3:00 a.m. when he was checking on bird songs and light. Dad would build a fire in the yard fireplace and make coffee out there, listening to the early birds with his light meter. He was measuring how much light there was as each species began to sing in the morning chorus….

As the Sun warmed the air, he went on his morning walk with Gus [his dog]. When the sun came up, Mother would rise, and then us children. It was always so pleasant to step out barefoot onto the dewy grass and walk to the Parthenon [privy], studying the pretty birdsfoot violets (Viola pedata) blooming along the path. In Dad’s prairie garden in front of the Shack, we would check out the gorgeous spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis), which could always count on producing one new fresh blue flower with three petals and a yellow center every single morning all summer.

In the final chapters, Estella recounts humorous and always respectful stories of her mother’s achievements in archery and bow hunting. She then moves on to stories that reflect the influence her childhood memories had upon her throughout her life, including learning the early restoration efforts on the land around the Shack, as well as learning the ongoing progress of restoration from the time of Estella’s father’s death to the present, largely carried on by the Leopold Foundation.

Aldo Leopold with family at the Shack. Courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation

“The Shack Idea,” her concluding chapter, describes how Estella’s siblings and she continued to imprint her father’s legacy afar by settling into and protecting threatened places by constructing “shacks” of their own that anchored their intentions for restoration and sense of place. The five siblings established their own shacks in the midst of natural surroundings in California, Wyoming, Wisconsin (an “eco-friendly house” built by Nina—Estella’s older sister—and Charlie Bradley near the Leopold Shack in Wisconsin), Costa Rica, and, Estella’s own in Colorado. Each shack became a statement by the Leopold’s grown children that the land and the wildlife which inhabited it could thrive in concert with human presence. Estella writes this of her own adult experience:

The enrichment of the land community constituted what I call the “greening of Shack West” in Colorado: it was an area that under my protection was now freed of the terrible strychnine poison pellets that had wiped out the original coyotes, and doubtless many birds. My land was now free of grazing cows (except temporarily when the fence broke). I have been happy to know from the occasional tracks and exciting personal encounters that my land also includes a family of black bears and a family of mountain lions.

Estella Leopold’s reminiscences offer engaging and informative stories, intended primarily for the generations to come who tend to be raised in a culture that sees wilderness or despoiled landscapes as places to be circumvented. In a culture that is fearful of the outdoors and its nonhuman inhabitants, from insects to wolves to bears, this book shows why it is necessary to encounter and to preserve our natural surroundings by learning what it is to be part and parcel of these spaces and how much we depend upon them for our own existence. Parents should read this book for the lessons in living with the natural world and with one another that it provides. The Leopold children, when grown, followed these lessons they learned at the Leopold Shack. Three, including Estella, a paleobotanist, became members of the National Academy of Sciences. All have devoted their lives to investigating how much we and the environment depend upon one another for our existence. Estella Leopold’s book is an important introduction to how to achieve a complete life for generations to follow.

Aldo Leopold at the Shack. Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives

Stories from the Leopold Shack: Sand County Revisited

Oxford University Press

Read an interview with Estella Leopold in the Center for Humans and Nature’s September 2016 issue of Minding Nature.

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Calls for submissions

There are two new calls for submissions to announce for eco-minded writers.

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First, Flyway Journal seeks submissions for its Notes from the Field nonfiction contest, which celebrates writing about vivid experience, whether abroad, at home, in your line of work, or in any other unexpected environment.

Flyway‘s guidelines: Submit one (1) work of creative nonfiction, previously unpublished, five thousand words maximum. Your cover letter should contain your name and contact information; your name should NOT appear anywhere else on the submission. Winning and runner-up selections will be announced late December and will be published in Flyway thereafter. Visit the Flyway submissions page for more details and to submit.

And Eco-Chick (a website site covering green fashion and beauty for women since 2005) has announced its first annual writing contest, Women in the Water. Writers are invited to submit a work of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry related to the theme of women and the water.

Eco-Chick’s guidelines state, “Writers can interpret our theme in any way they choose, as long as their piece has something to do with women and water. Though our contest is focused on women, we encourage anyone to submit no matter where you fall on the gender spectrum. Your submission should have an element related to women, such as a female character or a theme related to women’s issues.” Visit the website for more information and to submit.

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Thanks for supporting organizations and publications that aim to enlighten readers and protect the planet and its creatures!

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Book review: Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust

Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit

Wanderlust by Rebecca SolnitReading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2000) is a lot like talking a hike. It can be a strenuous journey. At times, you may wonder what you have gotten yourself into, but you happily trek on. Along the way, the book catches your attention with a beautiful point of insight or takes you to a soaring vista. The journey is enjoyable and ultimately rewarding.

Best of all, this book will make you want to get out into the world and walk. Solnit reminds us that walking is an intellectual, spiritual, and revolutionary pursuit and can be a creative and empowering act.

“Walking is an indicator species for various kinds of freedoms and pleasures: free time, free and alluring space, and unhindered bodies.”

Solnit writes a couple of different kind of books. There are her lyrically written, inventive essays (the extremely beautiful The Faraway Nearby  for example) and her obsessively researched academic books (i.e. A Paradise Built in Hell), fascinating if the topic interests. Wanderlust falls into the latter category, but it is the pick for EcoLit readers.

“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord.”

Solnit examines the spirituality, history, literature, and political implications of walking. Along the way, she offers numerous side trails to explore introducing works by walking philosophers and the genre of the walking essay. Side treks include Thoreau’s “Walking,” Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” and Umberto Eco’s Six Walks in a Fictional Wood.

Readers of EcoLit may be particularly interested in the second section of the book, “From the Garden to the Wild,” which includes information about the Sierra Club and its founder John Muir who, “…took a stand against anthropocentrism, against the idea that trees, animals, minerals, soil, water, are there for human to use, let alone to destroy.” Solnit writes about how, as walking, hiking and mountaineering became popular, people began to take an interest in nature again.

“It is impossible to overemphasize how profound is the effect of this revolution on the taste for nature and practice of walking. It reshaped both the intellectual world and the physical one, sending populations of travelers to hitherto obscure destinations, creating innumerable parks, preserves, trails, guides, clubs, and organizations and a vast body or art and literature with almost no precedent before the eighteenth century.”

If you like to walk, read, create, write and change the world, Wanderlust is fuel. It is the perfect walking companion and will encourage you to walk more.

“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.”

Inspired by this book: Find out more about The Sierra Club and read about Sarah Bergman’s Pollinator Pathway project on environmental architecture — we are of nature and can design our environment for biodiversity.

What to read next: See “Walking: The Secret Ingredient for Health, Wealth, and More Exciting Neighborhoods” in YES! Magazine.

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The Necessary Evolution of Environmental Writing


Halfway through reading The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston, I came across the following passage:

A new danger, moreover, now threatens the birds at sea. An irreducible residue of crude oil, called by refiners ‘slop,’ remains in stills after oil distribution, and this is pumped into southbound tankers and emptied far offshore. This wretched pollution floats over large areas, and the birds alight into it and get it on their feathers. They inevitably die.

The passage startled me because so much of the book up to that point was the sort of writing you’d expect from a classic work of environmental literature—elegant descriptions of the colors of the sand dunes, sounds of the birds, the rolling surf, nothing controversial or newsy. So I admit I was also excited to have come across this passage, expecting the author to become outraged into action or to venture into an exploration of how vulnerable the oceans and its inhabitants could be.

Instead, Beston concluded his all-too-brief aside on oil pollution as follows:

To-day oil is more the chance fate of the unfortunate individual. But let us hope that all such pollution will presently end.

Beston wrote these words in 1927.

Clearly he was an optimist.

Would Beston, were he alive today, have written a different book, one devoted less to the beauty of nature than to the ways in which humans continue to mar it through oil spills, overfishing, plastics littering the beach?

I’d like to think so.

As a writer and a publisher, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an environmental writer today. I believe that we—readers and writers alike—must redefine environmental writing to give it a wider scope in focus and in form, and a more pressing mandate. In other words, we need environmental writing that is less concerned with how one describes the landscape than with how one protects that landscape.

Defining New Environmental Writing

The best environmental writing rises up to the challenges of its day. Without our blind faith in (and ignorance of) chemicals, there could have been no Silent Spring. Without the proliferation of dams and housing developments throughout the West there could have been no Monkey Wrench Gang.

From severe weather to record drought to species on the verge of extinction, environmental challenges have gone mainstream. So too should environmental writing, and in this light, I pose the following new guidelines:

1. Fiction and poetry can succeed where facts fail

When it comes to nature writing, most readers think of nonfiction; when it comes to twenty-first century environmental writing, most of this, too, is nonfiction—facts upon facts that many are tiring of reading, if they read it at all.

Fiction and poetry, however, can tell a new story.

Author Ann Pancake could have tackled mountaintop removal in West Virginia with a nonfiction book—she certainly conducted enough research to write one—but she chose fiction instead and created the powerful novel Strange as This Weather Has Been.

JoeAnn Hart, in her novel Float, wrote about plastics in the oceans—not by drawing on volumes of data but simply by telling a satirical story of a man struggling to make ends meet in a New England fishing town.

The poet Gretchen Primack, in her collection Kind, transports us into the world of factory farmed animals, and in only a handful of words does more to open eyes than most news articles.

We no longer want for facts; we have easy access to Wikipedia and countless other news sources, and we pick and choose which facts suit our worldview. What we need now are stories and characters that connect us to these facts—perhaps even without us knowing it at first—in ways that inspire lasting change and have the power to change our worldview.

2. All animals deserve “protected status”

We have a curious relationship with animals. Some animals we welcome into our homes while others we view merely as food. This hierarchy we have created of animal species is not based on reality; after all, pigs are more intelligent than dogs. Yet conventional environmental writing is reserved for those species on endangered lists, not pigs or chickens or cows.

Animal agriculture needs to be part of any piece of environmental writing—according to a 2012 study in the journal Ecosystems, a pound of beef requires 2,000 gallons of water to produce, while a pound of vegetables requires just 42 gallons. How can any environmental work that aspires to save the planet overlook this discussion?

Traditions are powerful, conservative forces in society. They connect us with one another, with past and future generations, and they remind us of our larger roles in life. But not all traditions are noble, nor should they be blindly handed down from one generation to the next. From religious prosecution to ethnic discrimination, history is littered with traditions better left behind. And yet so many rituals we accept as sacrosanct are having a negative impact on our planet. The consumption of meat is one such tradition that environmentalists, and those writing about environmentalism, can no longer ignore.

3. The great environmental battles are fought closer to home

So many environmental works have been written by those who took a hiatus from society. Thoreau retreated to a tiny cabin in woods of Massachusetts; Robert Byrd wintered alone in Antarctica. And while their acts and their writing took courage, today I’m far less interested in the stories of those who retreat off into the wild. For the “human against nature” stories feel tired and backward-looking.

The heroes of today are not those who run off into the wilderness. They are the people who stay behind and work to preserve the planet. I believe the best environmental writing to come will document those battles happening right in front of us, in our oceans and on our mountains, in our towns and schools, in our backyards and at our kitchen tables.

And the most important changes happen one person at a time, which then extends to one family, one neighborhood, one community, and so on. Change can happen one reader at a time—if writers are able to engage us with stories that matter.

The next hundred years

Just as I viewed Beston’s brief aside on oil spills with disappointment, I wonder how readers a hundred years from today will view our contemporary writing. Will they roll their eyes at our short-sightedness? Will they wonder why no one was talking about issues that clearly needed discussion? Or will they appreciate our awareness and our activism?

It’s been said that writing acts as a mirror, reflecting our culture, our time and place in history. Yet writing can also influence culture, nudge it forward, or redefine it entirely. This is the role of new environmental writing.


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Call for Writers: Voices for Biodiversity

Anthropologist Tara Waters Lumpkin is founder and executive director of a nonprofit project and e-zine called Voices for Biodiversity.

Voices for Biodiversity

Our goal is to provide a multimedia platform where citizen eco-reporters can share their stories about biodiversity and their relationships to other species and the ecosystems that support us all. We hope to awaken humanity to the reality that we must move away from an anthropocentric toward an eco-centric worldview.

As a nonprofit, the organization cannot pay writers, but this looks like a great opportunity for those who wish to make a contribution as well as aspiring environmental writers looking to develop a portfolio of work. Students are also welcome to participate.

You can learn more at Voices for Biodiversity.

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Bellevue Literary Review seeks environmentally themed submissions

Published by the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, Bellevue Literary Review is best known for being a journal that focuses on illness, health, and healing, with wonderfully broad and creative interpretations of these themes.

Bellevue Literary Review is now open to submissions for an upcoming theme issue: Our Fragile Environment. This issue’s aim is to “turn a literary lens to the effects of environmental changes,” and the magazine seeks previously unpublished fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for an upcoming special issue on illness, health, and healing in the context of environmental issues.

Click here for more info on how to submit.


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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.


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 or email (website is under redesign).

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