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‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ Wins Nature Writing Award

The Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin announced recently that Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants is the winner of its 2014 nature writing award.

Kimmerer will receive a $1,000 cash prize and an invitation to visit Northland College next fall for an award ceremony and reading. Kimmerer spoke on campus in March as part of Indigenous Cultures Awareness Month at Northland College.

Established in 1991, the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award recognizes remarkable environmental adult literature that captures the spirit of the human relationship with the natural world, and promotes Olson’s values, said Lissa Radke, who sits on the selection committee.

Chosen from 51 nominations, “The SONWA committee chose ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ because of its skillful weaving of very different fields of knowledge: indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers and extensive scientific research about botany and ecology,” she said.

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“We’ve not read a book that brought together these diverse discoveries in such a lyrical and almost spiritual way,” Radke said.

Kimmerer lives in Fabius, New York, where she is a mother, scientist, enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of environmental biology and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.

Published by Milkweed Press in 2013, Braiding Sweetgrass takes readers “on a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise,” writes Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love.

Kimmerer’s first book, Gathering Moss, was awarded the prestigious John Burroughs Medal in 2005 for outstanding nature writing. Sigurd Olson was a recipient of the same award in 1974 for his book, Wilderness Days.

The SONWA selection committee also noted two finalists: The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be, by J.B. MacKinnon and The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, by former Northland College instructor Paul Bogard.

“This is the first year the SONWA committee has named finalists, and it’s because the top three books were all so good,” Radke said.