Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award Winners

1. Open Spaces. The 1991 Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award (SONWA) gave its inaugural award to Minnesota author Jim Dale Vickery for Open Spaces , a book that takes the reader to the unpopulated spaces in North America. Vickery, who died in June 2014, continued to write about nature. Open Spaces appears to be out of print but used copies are readily available.

2. Brother Wolf. The 1993 SONWA went to Minnesota author Jim Brandenberg for Brother Wolf , a book that explores the behavior of wolves in northern Minnesota and includes intense provocative nature photography. Brandenberg worked for several years for National Geographic as a photographer, writer, and film producer.

3. The Northern Forest. The 1995 SONWA went to David Dobbs and Richard Ober for The Northern Forest, a book that focuses on the lives of Northern Forest residents—a mill worker, a forester, several loggers, a fishing guide, and a Christmas tree-farming family. Dobbs writes essays and features for The New York Times among others. He is currently the executive director of the Monadnock Conservancy, a conservation land trust for southwestern New Hampshire.

4. The Tree Farm. The 1996 SONWA was awarded to Robert Treuer for The Tree Farm, a book of the author’s quest for something to belong to, an informative study of ecology and conservation, and a tender, amusing view of the natural world. This author has a colorful history not only in writing, as he was born in Austria in 1926 and escaped the Holocaust in 1938 and eventually landed in the United States and while living in Minnesota became a teacher and tribal leader. Along with publishing books, Treuer has written for many outlets, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

5. Heart and Blood. The 1997 SONWA went to Richard Nelson for Heart and Blood, a book that begins with the author tracking a deer on a remote island off the Alaskan coast. Nelson examines the physiology of the deer, explaining how its unique digestive system and grazing habits have enabled it to thrive in the varied environments of the United States, whether wild, suburban, or urban. Richard Nelson is a Wisconsin native and a cultural anthropologist and creative nonfiction writer whose work focuses on human relationships to the natural world.

6. Northern Passages. The 1998 SONWA went to Michael Van Stappen for Northern Passages, a book that captures the spirit of northwestern Wisconsin and the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan-Lake Superior country.

7. Holdfast. The 1999 SONWA went to Kathleen Dean Moore for Holdfast, a collection of essays in which Moore seeks to understand what holds her firmly to family and place. In twenty exhilarating essays Moore explores subjects such as: the sense of brotherhood fostered by communal wolf howls; the inevitability of losing our children to their own lives; and many more. Moore, Alaskan native, is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University in Corvallis, where she teaches environmental ethics, philosophy of nature, and a variety of courses for OSU’s new MA in Environmental Leadership.

8. Hope is the Thing with Feathers. The 2000 SONWA was awarded to Christopher Cokinos for Hope Is the Thing with Feathers, a book by an award-winning nature writer that weaves natural history and personal experience into the dramatic story of the last days of six North American bird species. Christopher Cokinos is a nature and science writer with strong interests in a variety of topics, including climate change, extinction, traditional natural history, space sciences,the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and improving science communications.

9. Tinkering with Eden. The 2001 Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award to Kim Todd for Tinkering With Eden, a book that tells the stories of non-native species and how they arrived in the United States. Species covered range from pigeons, brought over by some of the earliest colonists, to starlings, imported by a man who wanted to bring all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare to Central Park. Her articles and essays have appeared in Orion, Sierra Magazine, California Wild and Grist, among other places. She has taught environmental and nature writing at the University of Montana, the University of California at Santa Cruz extension, and the Environmental Writers Institute.

10. 2030: Thermageddon in our Lifetime. The 2002 SONWA was awarded to Robert Hunter for 2030: Thermageddon in Our Lifetime, a book that denounces the oil lobby, skewers Canada for its awful environmental record, and offers climate change solutions for everyone from suburbanites to the United Nations. Author and Greenpeace co-founder Robert Hunter is at his angry best in 2030 when drawing out the scientifically proven (yes, proven) causes of climate change and the disastrous consequences we may already be facing.

11. Children’s Award Added! Isabel’s House of Butterflies. The 2003 SONWA broadened the focus of the writing award by developing a complementary Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award for Children’s Literature. The first winner was author Tony Johnston and illustrator Susan Guevara awarded for the book Isabel’s House of Butterflies, a book about an eight year old Mexican girl’s greatest treasure: an oyamel tree.

12. The Living Great Lakes. The 2003 SONWA Adult awarded Jerry Dennis for The Living Great Lakes, a comprehensive book on the history, nature, and science of these remarkable lakes at the heart of North America. Jerry Dennis grew up in rural northern Michigan and has earned his living since 1986 writing about the places where nature and human culture meet. His essays and short fiction have appeared in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, Smithsonian, Audubon, Orion, American Way, Gray’s Sporting Journal, and Michigan Quarterly Review.

13. A Place Between the Tides. The 2004 SONWA Adult went to Harry Thurston for A Place Between the Tides, the story of Thurston’s return to the beloved environment of his boyhood when he moves to the Old Marsh, a 1.5-hectare marsh on the banks of the Tidnish River in Nova Scotia. Harry Thurston is the author of several collections of poetry and twelve nonfiction books, including Tidal Life: A Natural History of the Bay of Fundy, winner of three non-fiction prizes in the Atlantic region, and The Nature of Shorebirds: Nomads of the Wetlands.

14. The Boy Who Drew Birds. The 2004 Children’s Literature was awarded to author Jacqueline Davies and illustrator Melissa Sweet for The Boy Who Drew Birds a book that takes place in early rural America from the fall of 1803 to the spring of 1805. America at that time was a vast, awkward, struggling, magnificent country, still recovering from the Revolutionary War. Upon his arrival from France, John James Audubon discovered a world of wildlife, unspoiled scenery, and unexplored lands.

15. Where Mountains Are Nameless: Passion and Politics in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The 2005 Adult SONWA went to Jonathan Waterman for Where Mountains Are Nameless: Passion and Politics in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a book that tell the story of adventurer Jonathan Waterman as he braves polar bears and frigid waters in a journey through the heart of the Alaskan wilds—and into the heated political debate surrounding the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Waterman’s unforgettable trek was aired on PBS as part of National Geographic’s Wild Chronicles series.

16. Leave Only Ripples: A Canoe Country Sketchbook. The 2005 Children’s SONWA was awarded to Consie Powell for Leave Only Ripples: A Canoe Country Sketchbook, a book that tell the story of a family canoe trip into the Border Country lakes of northern Minnesota and western Ontario and is vividly depicted with woodblocks, sketches, and prose.

17. Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd. The 2006 Adult SONWA was awarded to Karsten Heuer for Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd, a book about the female members of the Porcupine caribou herd who have made the 2,800-mile journey from their winter feeding grounds to their summer calving grounds. Heuer and his wife spent their honeymoon following the herd. For five months, they traveled an uncharted course on foot over mountains, through snow, and across frozen rivers, with only three semi-scheduled food drops for support.

18. The Birdman. The 2006 Children’s SONWA was awarded to author Veronika Martenova Charles and illustrators Annouchka Gravel Galouchko and Stephan Daigle for The Birdman, a book about Noor Nobi. a broken man, wandering the streets of Calcutta with no reason to live. His three children, snatched from him in a cruel accident, were everything he worked for and loved.

19. The Animal Dialogues. The 2007 Adult SONWA went to Craig Childs for The Animal Dialogues, a book that tells of Craig Childs’ own chilling experiences among the grizzlies of the Arctic, sharks off the coast of British Columbia and in the turquoise waters of Central America, jaguars in the bush of northern Mexico, mountain lions, elk, Bighorn Sheep, and others. Craig Childs writes about the relationship between humans, animals, landscape, and time. His stories come from visceral, personal experience, whether in the company of illicit artifact dealers or in deep wilderness.

20. One Well: The Story of Water on Earth. The 2007 SONWA for Children’s Literature was awarded to author Rochelle Strauss and illustrator Rosemary Wood for One Well: The Story of Water on Earth, a book that shows how every one of us has the power to conserve and protect our global well. One Well is part of CitizenKid: A collection of books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens.

21. American Buffalo. The 2008 Adult SONWA went to Steven Rinella for American Buffalo. In 2005, Steven Rinella won a lottery permit to hunt for a wild buffalo, or American bison, in the Alaskan wilderness. Despite the odds—there’s only a two percent chance of drawing the permit, and fewer than twenty percent of those hunters are successful—Rinella managed to kill a buffalo on a snow-covered mountainside and then raft the meat back to civilization while being trailed by grizzly bears and suffering from hypothermia. Rinella’s writing has also appeared in a wide variety of popular publications, including Glamour, Men’s Journal, Outside, New Yorker, the New York Times, Salon.com, O the Oprah Magazine, Field and Stream, and the annual anthologies Best American Travel Writing (2003, 2010, 2014) and Best Food Writing (2005, 2013).

22. The Blind Faith Hotel. The 2008 SONWA for Children’s Literature was awarded to author Pamela Todd for The Blind Faith Hotel, a book that paints an indelible portrait of a girl looking for her own true self and a place she can call home.

23. Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness. The 2009 Adult SONWA was awarded to Lyanda Lynn Haupt for Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, a book that is a call to experience the wildlife in our midst, reminding us that we don’t have to head to faraway places to encounter “nature.” Even in the cities and suburbs where we live we are surrounded by wildlife such as crows. Lyanda Lynn Haupt is a naturalist, eco-philosopher, and speaker whose writing is at the forefront of the movement to connect people with nature in their everyday lives.

24. Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming. The 2009 SONWA for Children’s Literature was awarded to author Jan Reynolds for Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming, a book about how on the island of Bali in Southeast Asia, rice farming is a way of life. The people live in tune with the natural rhythms and cycles of the water and the soil.

25. The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. The 2010 Adult SONWA went to John Vaillant for The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, a book about a man pitted against nature’s most fearsome and efficient predator. As John Vaillant re-creates these extraordinary events, he gives us an unforgettable and masterful work of narrative nonfiction that combines a riveting portrait of a stark and mysterious region of the world and its people, with the natural history of nature’s most deadly predator. John Vaillant is a non-fiction author and journalist who was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and has lived in Vancouver for the past thirteen years.

26. Seeds of Change. The 2010 SONWA for Children’s Literature was awarded to author Jen Cullerton Johnson and illustrator Sonia Lynn Sadler for Seeds of Change, a book about a young Kenyan girl who excelled at science and went on to study in the United States. After returning home, Wangari blazed a trail across Kenya, using her knowledge and compassion to promote the rights of her countrywomen and to help save the land, one tree at a time.

27. Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Outlook. The 2011 SONWA was awarded to Philip Connors for Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Outlook. a book that both evokes and honors the great hermit celebrants of nature, from Dillard to Kerouac to Thoreau. Phillip Connors is a major new voice in American nonfiction, and his remarkable debut, Fire Season, is destined to become a modern classic. An absorbing chronicle of the days and nights of one of the last fire lookouts in the American West, Fire Season is a marvel of a book.

28. Planting the Wild Garden. The 2011 SONWA for Children’s Literature was awarded to author Kathryn O. Galbraith and illustrator Wendy Anderson Halperi for Planting the Wild Garden, which is a lyrical picture book, and explains the many ways in which seeds are spread and planted.

29. Apocalyptic Planet, Field Guide to the Future of the Earth. The 2012 Adult SONWA was awarded to Craig Childs for Apocalyptic Planet, Field Guide to the Future of the Earth. Childs delivers a sensual feast in his descriptions of the natural world, and undeniable science that reveals both the earth’s strengths and frailties. Bearing witness to the planet’s sweeping and perilous changes, he shows how we can alter the future, and how the world will live on, though humans may not survive to see it. Craig Childs writes about the relationship between humans, animals, landscape, and time. His stories come from visceral, personal experience, whether in the company of illicit artifact dealers or in deep wilderness.

30. Endangered. The 2012 SONWA for Children’s Literature was awarded to author Elliot Schrefer for Endangered. Schrefer plunges us into a heart-stopping exploration of the things we do to survive, the sacrifices we make to help others, and the tangled geography that ties us all, human and animal, together.

31.The 2013 SONWA was awarded to Robin Wall Kimmerer for Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants, a book that gracefully blends two subjects that have often been framed as incompatible: science and indigenous knowledge. As a professor of botany, a woman of the Potawatomi nation, and a mother, Kimmerer lends a unique perspective to the nature writing genre, offering an accessible message to people of various backgrounds. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her first book, Gathering Moss, was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing.

32. A Place for Turtles. The 2013 SONWA for Children’s Literature was awarded to author Melissa Stewart and illustrator Higgins Bond for A Place for Turtles, a book that shares with young readers basic facts about turtles, including where they live, what they eat, and how they benefit plants and other animals. With sidebars throughout the book and a Turtle Tidbits; trivia page at the end, children will also learn what they can do to protect species in their own communities while full-color, realistic illustrations bring turtles and ecosystems to life in glorious, vivid detail.

33. The Carry Home: Lessons from the American Wilderness. The 2014 Adult SONWA was awarded to Gary Ferguson the adult SONWA for The Carry Home: Lessons from the American Wilderness, for its evocative reflection on Ferguson’s journey to fulfill his wife’s dying wish to scatter her ashes in the five remote locations they loved and shared together. The Carry Home embodies Olson’s literary legacy through its articulation of the Wilderness Movement, exploring the fundamental meaning of wilderness and by being a “well-written story stylistically,” said Alan Brew, associate professor of English at Northland College, who served on the selection committee.

34. Young Adult Added! Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines. The first SONWA for Young Adult was awarded to Paul Fleischman for  Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines (2014), an environmental wake-up call and a tool kit for decoding the stream of conflicting information confronting them. SONWA committee member Jan Penn believes Eyes Wide Open leads young readers “to explore human motivations, influences and barriers in the decision making process and matters of societal and cultural bias impacting environmental headlines.”

35. A Boy and a Jaguar. The 2014 SONWA for Children’s Literature was awarded to Alan Rabinowitz for A Boy and a Jaguar. In it, Rabinowitz recounts his experience of growing up with a severe stutter and feeling connected to caged animals in the Bronx Zoo, who like him do not have a voice in A Boy and a Jaguar. “Rabinowitz’s work carries Olson’s legacy through giving a voice to the wildness within and outside of each of us,” said SONWA selection committee member Eileen Van Pernis.

36. For the Love of Rivers: A Scientist’s Journey. The 2015 Adult SONWA was awarded to Kurt D. Bausch for For the Love of Rivers: A Scientist’s Journey, (Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, Oregon).

37. Water Runs Through This Book. The 2015 Young Adult SONWA awarded to Nancy Bo Flood for Water Runs Through This Book, (Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado). Photography by Jan Sonnenmair.

38. North Woods Girl . The 2015 Children’s SONWA awarded to Aimee Bissonette for North Woods Girl (Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, Minnesota). Illustrations by Claudia McGehee.

39. Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History. 2016 Adult SONWA awarded to Dan Flores for Coyote America (Basic Books, New York, New York).

40. Hawk. 2016 Young Adult SONWA awarded to Jennifer Dance for Hawk (Dundurn, Toronto, Ontario).

41. Journey: The Most Famous Wolf in the West. The 2016 SONWA for Children’s Literature awarded to Emma Bland Smith with illustrations by Robin James  for Journey (Little Bigfoot, Seattle, Washington).


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