Press Release | March 5, 2010

Alabama rivers, Great Smoky Mountains are featured topics for Reed Writing Award winners

SELC is pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Phillip D. Reed Memorial Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment. In the Book category, Alabama natural history scholar John Hall won for Headwaters: A Journey on Alabama Rivers, published by the University of Alabama Press. In the Journalism category, staff reporter and news editor for Smoky Mountain News Becky Johnson won for “Celebrating 75 Years of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” published in a special edition of the Smoky Mountain Living.

Hall and Johnson will be in Charlottesville on March 20, to accept their awards and read from their work as part of SELC’s special event at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Our featured speaker will be renowned southern writer Lee Smith. The event is scheduled for 12 to 2 p.m., CitySpace on the downtown pedestrian mall. It is free and open to the public. A book signing will immediately follow at SELC’s offices on the mall, a short walk down the mall (across from Regal Cinemas).

In a talk entitled “Sense of Place: Natural Landscapes and the Southern Writer,” Smith will discuss her storytelling roots and upbringing in rural southwest Virginia and reflect on how the unique southern landscape influences her writing, and that of many southern writers. She will also read from her latest book, Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger.

In Headwaters, Hall presents in epic fashion the story of Alabama’s rivers, spanning time and space from the geologic formation of the Appalachians through to present-day research taking place to protect them. Hall builds his narrative around what he calls “the Great River of Alabama,” a single stream of his imagination comprised of all the rivers of the state. He follows the waters as they emerge from primal seepages in the mountains or from the broad Chunnenuggee Hills, carve their way through rocky uplands, roil along the Fall Line rapids, and ease across the coastal plain before they empty into the Gulf of Mexico. Each chapter ends with a special focus on conservation – of fishes, mussels, water quality, and finally coastal rivers and turtles.

As curator of the Black Belt Museum at the University of West Alabama and former Chief of Natural History at the University of Alabama Museum of Natural History, Hall is eminently knowledgeable about this topic, yet it’s clear from his unadorned prose and occasional twists of humor that he wants his readers to feel at once awed by and connected to these waters. Presented as a coffee-table book, Headwaters is graced by more than 150 breathtaking photographs by longtime Alabama photographer Beth Maynor Young.

What the Reed judges say: 

  •  “It’s a handsome and informative book, a good read. History and natural history, legends and lore, this book is well-written and meticulously researched. A joy to read.”- Janet Lembke.
  • “Not only is it beautiful, but you feel a need to save as well as savor these waters.”- Nikki Giovanni.

Journalism Award winner Becky Johnson was the lead writer for a special edition of Smoky Mountain Living celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2009. As she noted, the park is many things to many people: a place of refuge, a keeper of history, a home to wildlife, an engine for tourism – a backdrop to life itself in the region. Her multiple stories explore these many facets of the park, as well as the long-standing resentment of some in the region whose forebears were compelled to leave their homes and farms when the government acquired their land.

Johnson spent more than 200 hours interviewing historians, park rangers, old-timers, community leaders, artists, ecologists and those who recreate in the park. Weaving together their voices, along with stories from the past and present-day issues of conservation, she takes her readers on a fascinating tour of one of the most visited parks in the U.S., and one of the most biologically diverse spots in the world.

What the Reed judges say: 

  • “I found her articles on the history of the Smokies park particularly important and informative.” – Will Martin.
  • “Becky Johnson certainly had the most in-depth reporting.” – Joel K. Bourne, Jr.

SELC also congratulates the runners-up in each category: Howard Ernst in the Book category for Fight for the Bay (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers), and Anne Paine and Brad Schrade in the Journalism category for a collection of articles about the Tennessee Valley Authority and the 2008 coal ash spill (The Tennessean).

SELC is grateful to this year’s judges, who generously volunteer their time and talent: J

Joel K. Bourne, Jr. – Contributing writer, former environment editor at National Geographic
Jim Detjen – Director, Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, MSU
Nikki Giovanni – Poet, author, essayist; Distinguished Professor of English, Virginia Tech
Janet Lembke – Poet, essayist, author; Touching Earth
Will Martin – Senior Fellow for World Wildlife Fund; member SELC President’s Council.
Bill McKibben – Essayist, activist, author; Deep Economy; Scholar-in-residence, Middlebury College
Tara Rae Miner – Former managing editor of Orion magazine
Deaderick Montague – Civic leader and writer; Vice President of SELC Board of Trustees
Janisse Ray – Essayist, poet, activist, author; Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
Charles Seabrook – Author, former environmental reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Donovan Webster – Journalist and author; The Burma Road

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.