John Burroughs Literary Awards honor top nature writers

Area residents typically think of the John Burroughs Association as a local not-for-profit organization that maintains Slabsides and the surrounding nature sanctuary and trails in West Park. But the Association also has a national profile as a respected conferrer of annual literary awards in the genre of nature writing, helping to keep alive the primary profession of the great 19th-century naturalist himself.

At 12 noon on Monday, April 2, the Yale Club of New York City will host the 2018 John Burroughs Literary Awards Luncheon, at which awards in four categories will be handed out to authors whose works have been judged “the best in nature writing” published in the US in 2017. The top prize, the John Burroughs Medal, goes this year to University of the South professor and 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist David George Haskell, for The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors (Viking Books). In visits to a dozen specific trees throughout the world, this book, according to the Association, “reveals how trees, through their webs of fungi and communities of bacteria, the actions of animals and other plants and their human intersections, are the center of a biological network that underpins all life, including our own…powerfully arguing against the ‘otherness’ of nature that denies our own wild being.”

A special John Burroughs Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Nature Poetry is being awarded this year to Missouri-born Coloradan Pattiann Rogers, “in recognition of the power and permanence of Rogers’ entire body of work,” which spans four decades and includes 14 books of poetry and two of prose. Per the awards judges, “Her poetry is among the most important and durable of any contemporary poet…. Few major American poets have written such distinguished verse that is so dramatically informed by natural history. Rogers’ work lies clearly in the long tradition of John Burroughs’ friend Walt Whitman, but takes the form deep into the modern idiom.” Rogers is the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts grants, a Guggenheim


Fellowship, a Literary Award in Poetry from the Lannan Foundation, five Pushcart Prizes and has had two appearances in Best American Poetry.

A native of upstate New York and SUNY-New Paltz alumna who now lives in Washington State, Jenn Dean, is the winner of this year’s John Burroughs Nature Essay Award. Her essay, “The Keepers of the Ghost Bird,” was published in the October 1917 issue of the Massachusetts Review. Intertwining human history and natural history, it tells the story of efforts to preserve the cahow, a petrel that now survives only on Nonsuch Island, off Bermuda.

Children’s books about nature are honored each year with the Riverby Awards for Young Readers (and presumably, budding naturalists). The 2017 winners are: Amazon Adventure (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Sy Montgomery with photographs by Keith Ellenbogen; Creekfinding: A True Story (University of Minnesota Press), by Jacqueline Briggs Martin with illustrations by Claudia McGehee; Karl, Get Out of the Garden! Carolus Linnaeus and the Naming of Everything (Charlesbridge Publishing), by Anita Sanchez with illustrations by Catherine Stock; Over and under the Pond (Chronicle Books), by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal; and Robins! How They Grow Up (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), written and illustrated by Eileen Christlelow.

The 2018 John Burroughs Literary Awards Luncheon on April 2 is open to the general public, and authors and illustrators will be on hand to sign copies of their books. The price of admission is $110 for John Burroughs Association members, $135 for non-members. The Yale Club of New York City is located at 50 Vanderbilt Avenue (across from Grand Central Station) in Manhattan. Please register by March 28 at To read more about the awards and the recipients, visit