With this year’s Reed Environmental Writing Awards, SELC salutes three writers who offer bold visions for revitalizing our cities and saving the world’s species, and who reveal the global and local impacts of our dependence on fossil fuels. Their work will be recognized at SELC’s Headquarters on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 25, during the Virginia Festival of the Book.
This year’s winners of the Reed Award in the book category are Ryan Gravel for Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities (St. Martin’s Press) and Edward O. Wilson for Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (Liveright Publishing Corp.). The winner of the Reed Award in the journalism category is Janisse Ray for “From Ashes Such as These, What Can Rise?”, published in The Bitter Southerner.
Gravel is an urban designer and originator of the Atlanta Beltline, a project now underway that is repurposing 22 miles of old rail lines that ring the city. When fully realized, the Beltline will connect more than 40 diverse neighborhoods with trails, parks, transit lines, and redeveloped vacant land. In his book, Gravel uses this project and others to illustrate how remodeled infrastructure can be the catalyst for creating urban districts that support a healthier and more satisfying way of life, and that provide an antidote to traffic-clogged highways and sprawl.
The founding principal of Sixpitch, an urban design consultancy in Atlanta, Gravel will be in Charlottesville on March 25 to receive the Reed Award and to give a reading from his book.
A native of Alabama, Wilson is a professor emeritus at Harvard University, an eminent biologist, and one of the world’s most revered conservationists. In Half-Earth, he makes the case for committing half of the planet to nature to curb the accelerating extinction of Earth’s species—and to ensure the survival of our own. His book begins by showing how human activity and its impacts, including climate change, are rapidly reducing the world’s biodiversity. It continues with a sweeping overview of surviving species and the threats they face. And it concludes with his remedy for maintaining the world’s rich variety of life for future generations: “a global network of inviolable reserves that cover half the surface of Earth.”
Ray is one of the South’s most admired ecology writers. In her Bitter Southerner article, she chronicles how the residents of rural Wayne County, Georgia, have risen up against a company’s plan to turn a local landfill into a dump for trainloads of toxic-laden coal ash. The controversy brought to light that the landfill has been quietly receiving coal ash for years and that leaks have been linked to groundwater contamination. Her article paints a vivid portrait of the community and the local citizens who are leading the fight against this proposal. Ray is the author of five books, including the widely acclaimed Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, winner of the Reed Environmental Writing Award in 2000. She also has produced a collection of eco-poetry and was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2015.
The featured speaker for SELC’s Reed Award event on March 25 will be coastal geologist Robert S. Young, a leading authority on the impacts of coastal storms, sea level rise and U.S. coastal management. Young is director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, a joint venture of Western Carolina University and Duke University. In addition to producing numerous scientific publications, he has written on coastal issues for the New York Times, USA Today, and other media outlets, and appears regularly as a guest on shows ranging from CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 to NPR’s All Things Considered. He also has testified before Congress and numerous state legislatures.
SELC’s Reed Environmental Writing Award is named for the late Phillip D. Reed, a distinguished attorney, a committed environmental advocate, and a founding trustee of SELC. Reed believed deeply in the power of writing to raise awareness of environmental issues and the forces that threaten natural treasures and special places.