Press Release | April 1, 2008

Stories of Atlanta’s hidden watershed and the destruction of Appalachian mountains win SELC awards

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, Atlanta-based writer and photographer David Kaufman won for Peachtree Creek: A Natural and Unnatural History of Atlanta’s Watershed. In the Journalism category, reporter Tim Thornton won for his series about mountaintop removal coal mining, “Moving the Mountains,” published in The Roanoke Times.

Kaufman and Thornton each received an award plaque and a $1,000 prize, and read from their winning entries at an award ceremony March 28, at SELC’s headquarters as part of the annual Virginia Festival of the Book. The event featured Orion magazine editor-in-chief and long-time judge for SELC’s Reed Award, H. Emerson Blake, who presented a thought-provoking discussion of how art, including writing, evokes the passions about a place or an issue that impel us to action to protect the environment.

Links to the winners can be found on

Beginning in 1990, David Kaufman spent 13 years exploring one of Atlanta’s urban waterways from its headwaters to its confluence with the Chattahoochee River. From his canoe, through his camera lens, from conversations with local people, and in researching historical records, Kaufman gained an intimacy with the stream and its watershed that is abundantly evident in Peachtree Creek, published by the University of Georgia Press. Kaufman’s tale weaves the past with the present, showing the influence of both man and nature on the landscape, the people, and the stream itself – from the massive culverts choked with waste, to the century-old Wallace dam, to the bridge frequented by homeless men, to the bucolic stretches frequented by fishermen. Grounded by his new-found and enduring relationship with the stream in all its manifestations, Kaufman concludes with a heartfelt and clarion call for conservation.

Blake says of Peachtree Creek: “Wallace Stegner said that a place is not a place without a poet. Peachtree Creek has found its poet in David Kaufman. Peachtree Creek describes how profoundly we are shaped by our surroundings and how profoundly, and destructively, we are able to modify those surroundings. This is the kind of story that really makes one stop and think about what kind of world we want to live in.”

In the Journalism category, Tim Thornton’s winning series in The Roanoke Times was the first in-depth look at the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining in Southwest Virginia. Thornton spent untold hours researching the legal, economic and environmental angles of this issue, traveling around the coalfields and talking with the people whose lives are affected when coal companies blast apart mountain tops and ridges to expose the coal seams and dump the rubble in creeks and headwaters. Like the coal-mining practices he writes about, Thornton’s no-frills prose exposes in pure form the stories of the communities and the landscape of the region. In addition to the Reed Award, his series won awards from the Society of Environmental Journalism and the Virginia Press Association.

Janisse Ray, a Reed judge and former Reed winner, says of Thornton’s work: “This is a thorough investigation into the greatest tragedy of the American landscape today. I read it greedily, filled with equal parts of bottomless sadness and amazement at the people who, despite the odds, have found the courage and enlightenment to fight it. Very impressive.”

SELC congratulates David Kaufman and Tim Thornton for their accomplishments.

We also congratulate the finalists for their outstanding work. In the Book category, they are: Bland Simpson, The Inner Islands: A Carolinian’s Sound Country Chronicle (UNC Press); John Lane, Circling Home (UGA Press); and Kim Trevathan, Coldhearted River: A Canoe Odyssey Down The Cumberland (UTenn Press). In the Journalism category, they are: Elizabeth Hunter, “From the farm,” in Blue Ridge Country magazine; Bruce Henderson and Elizabeth Leland, “A Cry for the Catawba,” in the Charlotte Observer; and Jayson Whitehead, “Let it flow,” in C-ville Weekly.

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

Marilou Awiakta – Poet and essayist; award-winning author of Abiding Appalachia and Selu.
H. Emerson Blake – Editor-in-Chief of Orion magazine; former publisher of Milkweed Editions.
Michael Carlton – Former editor at Yankee Magazine, Coastal Living, and several daily newspapers.
Jan DeBlieu* – Author of Wind; winner of Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Natural History Writing.
Jim Detjen – Director, Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, Michigan State University.
David Gessner – Award-winning author of Return of the Osprey; professor at UNC Wilmington.
Janet Lembke – Essayist and author of Touching Earth, Dangerous Birds, and other nature books.
Will Martin – Formerly with NOAA; Senior Fellow with WWF; member SELC President’s Council.
Bill McKibben – Visiting scholar at Middlebury College; author of The End of Nature, and other books.
Deaderick Montague – Vice President of SELC Board of Trustees; author, civic leader.
Janisse Ray* – Essayist; award-winning author Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and other books.
Charles Seabrook – Author; former environment reporter for Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Donovan Webster – Author; former Outside editor; contributor to National Geographic, Smithsonian.
* DeBlieu and Ray abstained from judging the Book category; each was either mentioned in acknowledgements or wrote a blurb for one of the entries.

The award is named in memory of SELC founding trustee Phillip D. Reed, a talented attorney and committed environmental activist who helped guide our organization through the early years before his untimely death in 1993.

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