• Sig Olson's personal gear

On Earth Day each year, Northland College announces its choices for the best in nature writing for the previous year. Three authors are selected to receive the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award (SONWA) for adult, young adult, and children’s literature.

Established in 1991, SONWA honors the literary legacy of Sigurd F. Olson by recognizing and encouraging contemporary writers who seek to carry on his tradition of nature writing. In 2004, organizers expanded the award to include children’s literature and in 2015 added the young adult genre.

View SONWA Winners (books published in 2015)

  • Adult:  For the Love of Rivers: A Scientist’s Journey by Kurt D. Fausch (Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, Oregon)
  • Young Adult: Water Runs Through This Book by Nancy Bo Flood and photography by Jan Sonnenmair (Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado)
  • Children: North Woods Girl, by Aimee Bissonette with illustrations by Claudia McGehee (Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, Minnesota)

adult Honorary Mention

  • Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things by M.R. O’Connor (St. Martins Press, New York, New York)

adult notable books

  • Satellites in the High Country: Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man by Jason Mark (Island Press, Washington D.C.)

  • The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, New York)

Young adult notable books

  • Lost in the Backyard by Alison Hughes (Orca Book Publishers, Custer, Washington)
  • Nature Anatomy by Julia Rothman with help from John Niekrasz (Storey Publishing, North Adams, Massachusetts)
  • Trash Talk: Moving Toward a Zero-Waste World by Michelle Mulder (Orca Book Publishers, Custer, Washington)
  • Wild at Heart: Mustangs and the Young People Fighting to Save Them by Terri Farley, photographs by Melissa Farlow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, New York)

children’s honorable mention

  • My Wilderness: An Alaskan Adventure by Claudia McGehee (Little Bigfoot, Sasquatch Books, Seattle, Washington)
  • The Seeds of Friendship by Michael Foreman (Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts)
  • The Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Melanie Cataldo (Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts)

CHILDREN’S notable books

  • A Snowy Owl Story by Melissa Kim, illustrated by Jada Finch (Islandport Press, Yarmouth, Maine)
  • Sonya’s Chickens by Phoebe Wahl (Tundra Books, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company)
  • Toad Weather by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (PeachTree Publishers, Atlanta, Georgia)
  • Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation by Peggy Thomas, illustrations by Stacy Innerst (Calkins Creek, Honesday, Pennsylvania)

View the past winners.

Learn About the Awards

The Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award (SONWA) was established in 1991 to both honor the memory and literary legacy of Sigurd F. Olson and help support and encourage the work of contemporary writers who seek to carry on his tradition of quality nature writing. Over the years, the award competition has attracted entries from the best nature writers in the nation. The writing award is presented annually to an author whose book best captures the spirit of the human relationship with the natural world and promotes Olson’s values.

The literary nonfiction award is made possible through individual donations and an endowment from Eileen Long, former Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute Advisory Board member, who was instrumental in founding the SONWA.

If you would like to support this program, please give online or send your gift to Northland College, SONWA, 1411 Ellis Avenue, Ashland, WI 54806.

View SONWA Guidelines

Adult Category

The SONWA winners are announced each year on Earth Day (April 22).

Criteria

The Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award is given to a published book of literary nonfiction nature writing that captures the spirit of the human relationship with the natural world, and promotes the values that preserve or restore the land for future generations. The literary work must:

  • hold a 2016 copyright
  • be written by a single author

Note: coffee table books, children’s books, guidebooks, or general references will not be considered.

Adult Award recipient receives

$1,000 cash prize and an invitation to visit Northland College (all expenses paid) for an award ceremony and public reading.

Submission deadline

Submissions can be made up to December 31, 2016. To enter submit nine copies of your publication to:

SONWA c/o Jean Ayers
Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute
Northland College
1411 Ellis Avenue
Ashland, WI 54806

Young Adult categorY

Criteria

The Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Awards Young Adult is given to a published book of literary nature writing for up to age 21—nonfiction or fiction—that captures the spirit of the human relationship with nature and promotes the awareness, preservation, appreciation, or restoration of the natural world for future generations.

  • hold a 2016 copyright
  • be written by a single author

Award recipient receives

The winner of the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing for Young Adult Literature, established in 2014, receives a certificate sent to the author.

Submission deadline

Submissions can be made until December 31, 2016. To enter submit nine copies of your publication to:

SONWA  c/o Jean Ayers
Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute
Northland College
1411 Ellis Avenue
Ashland, WI 54806

Children’s category

Criteria

The Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Awards for Children is given to a published book of literary nature writing for up to age 12—nonfiction or fiction—that captures the spirit of the human relationship with nature and promotes the awareness, preservation, appreciation, or restoration of the natural world for future generations.

  • hold a 2016 copyright
  • be written by a single author

Award recipient receives

The winner of the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing for Children’s Literature, established in 2004, receives a certificate sent to the author.

Submission deadline

Submissions can be made until December 31, 2016. To enter submit nine copies of your publication to:

SONWA  c/o Jean Ayers
Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute
Northland College
1411 Ellis Avenue
Ashland, WI 54806


Related Stories