Press Release | March 16, 2009

Two Virginians win SELC writing awards on themes of preserving farmland and connecting kids to nature

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, Radford University English professor Rick Van Noy won for A Natural Sense of Wonder: Connecting Kids with Nature Through the Seasons. In the Journalism category, freelance writer Nicole Anderson Ellis won for her story “Land Grab,” about the struggle preserve farmland in the fast-developing Piedmont, published in Style Weekly.

Van Noy and Ellis will be in Charlottesville this week to accept their $1,000 awards at a special event and reading as part of the annual Virginia Festival of the Book. Reed Award judge and author Don Webster will be on hand for opening remarks. The event is scheduled for 10 a.m., Saturday, March 21, at SELC’s Downtown Mall headquarters. It is free and open to the public. A book signing will follow.

(NOTE: North Carolina writer and activist Jan DeBlieu has cancelled her appearance at the event due to a family emergency.)

In A Natural Sense of Wonder, Reed Award winner Rick Van Noy seeks to unplug his two young children from the electronic trappings of modern childhood and get them into the great outdoors. Digging for salamanders in a creek, learning to appreciate vultures, and staring at the night sky replace the “flickering waves of TV and the electrifying boing of video games.” On their mini-adventures, the Van Noys discover what lives nearby, what nature has to teach, and why this matters. Van Noy’s effortless, loose prose is well-suited to the timeless simplicity of the lessons he shares with his children – and with the reader who tags along.

Says award judge Marilou Awiakta: “His book really addresses a national societal issue of the disconnect of the younger generation with the natural world and people around them. It is so personal and practical.”  And Janet Lembke: “A delight throughout, a page-turner, filled with fine ideas and suggestions for action between parents and children to introduce young-uns to the natural world.”

While in Charlottesville this week, Van Noy will be recording short excerpts from his winning book for the Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.

Journalism Award winner Nicole Anderson Ellis starts with the experience of one farmer in Chesterfield County, Virginia, for her story, “Land Grab,” to reveal the promise, and potential pitfalls, of conservation easements as tools to save fast-disappearing farmland in the Piedmont. Most land trusts will not accept conservation easements on land that is designated for growth by a county comprehensive plan – sometimes stymieing a landowner’s preservation-minded purpose. Moving deftly between explanatory writing and story telling, Ellis presents a complete picture of a tricky problem without losing the reader.

Says award judge Nikki Giovanni: “‘Land Grab’ really touched me because of my own situation right here when the mountain I live on was being destroyed. Now there are no deer, no snakes, and chipmunks running amuck.” And Charles Seabrook: “She did a good job covering a very important issue.”

SELC also congratulates the runners-up in each category: Elizabeth Findley Shores in the Book category for On Harper’s Trail: Roland McMillan Harper, Pioneering Botanist of the Southern Coastal Plain (University of Georgia Press), and reporter Bruce Henderson in the Journalism caterogy for a collection of environmental articles printed in The Charlotte Observer.

SELC is grateful to this year’s judges, who generously volunteer their time and talent:
Marilou Awiakta – Poet and essayist; Selu: A Corn Mother’s Wisdom.
Joel K. Bourne, Jr. – Former Senior Editor for the Environment at National Geographic.
Michael Carlton – Former editor of Yankee Magazine and Coastal Living.
Jan DeBlieu – Writer and activist; Wind.
Jim Detjen – Director, Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, MSU.
Nikki Giovanni – Grammy-nominated poet, activist and author; Bicycles: Love Poems.
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.
Tara Rae Miner – Managing editor of Orion magazine.
Deaderick Montague – Civic leader and writer; Vice President of SELC Board of Trustees.
Janisse Ray – Writer and activist; Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. (Ray wrote a blurb for one of the book entries and abstained from judging the category in 2009.)
Charles Seabrook – Former environmental reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Donovan Webster – Journalist and author; The Burma Road.