The Thoreau Prize

The Henry David Thoreau Prize for Literary Excellence in Nature Writing, known as the Thoreau Prize, was established in 2010 by nature writer Dale Peterson. In 2020, the Thoreau Society began administering the award.

Thoreau once declared, “I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute Freedom and Wildness, as contrasted with a Freedom and Culture merely civil, — to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.”

The Thoreau Prize is a literary award granted annually to an accomplished writer in English who, with a comparable intensity, wishes to speak for nature and embodies the spirit of Thoreau as a gifted writer, insightful naturalist, and ethical thinker. Although it has traditionally been granted as a lifetime achievement award, the prize may also be given to mid-career nature writers who have demonstrated exceptional promise in any genre (poetry, fiction, or nonfiction). The award consists of $2,500 and a commemorative gift.

Previous Winners

2020 Honoree: George Schaller

George Schaller

George Schaller is a researcher and field biologist whose books include The Year of the Gorilla, The Serengeti Lion, The Last Panda, and Tibet’s Hidden Wilderness. His awards include the National Book Award, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, Japan’s International Cosmos Prize, the China Environmental Prize, and Adventure magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

2019 Honoree: Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) was a poet whose books include Winter Hours, A Thousand Mornings, Upstream: Selected Essays, and Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. Her awards included the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Academy of Arts & Letters Award, and a Lannan Literary Award for lifetime achievement. She received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

2018 Honoree: Bernd Heinrich

Bernd Heinrich

Bernd Heinrich is a long-distance runner and a scientist who has studied ecology and the physiology and behavior of birds and insects. His books include Bumblebee Economics, Ravens in Winter, A Year in the Maine Woods, The Geese of Beaver Bog, and Racing the Clock: A Running Life With Nature. He has received the John Burroughs Medal and has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Harvard Fellow, and a Von Humboldt Fellow.

2017 Honoree: Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery is a naturalist and a writer for both children and adults. She is the author of twenty-eight books, including The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness and How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals. She has received the John Burroughs Association Riverby Award, the New England Book Award for Nonfiction, and the ASPCA Henry Bergh Award for Nonfiction, and has been a finalist for the National Book Award.

2016 Honoree: Linda Hogan

Linda Hogan

Linda Hogan is a novelist, poet, and playwright. Her works include Red Clay, The Sweet Breathing of Plants, and The Woman Who Watches Over the World: A Native Memoir. The Chickasaw Nation named her its Writer in Residence. She has received the Lannan Award for Outstanding Achievement in Poetry and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Native Writers' Circle of the Americas. She has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

2015 Honoree: Diane Ackerman

Diane Ackerman

Diane Ackerman is a poet, essayist, and naturalist. Her works include The Moon by Whale Light, The Zookeeper’s Wife, A Natural History of the Senses, and The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us. She has received a National Outdoor Book Award and an Orion Book Award, and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award. She has been honored as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library.

2014 Honoree: T. C. Boyle

T.C. Boyle

T. C. Boyle is the author of twenty-four books of fiction, including novels with environmental themes that include A Friend of the Earth, The Tortilla Curtain, and When the Killing's Done. He has received the PEN/Faulkner Prize for best novel of the year, the PEN/Malamud Prize in the short story, and the Prix Médicis Étranger for best foreign novel in France. He has been a member of the English Department at the University of Southern California since 1978.

2013 Honoree: Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014) was the author of more than thirty books and the only writer to win the National Book Award for both nonfiction (The Snow Leopard, in two categories in 1979 and 1980) and fiction (Shadow Country, in 2008). A cofounder of The Paris Review and a world-renowned naturalist, explorer, and activist, he also received a William Dean Howells Medal and the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, and was named State Author of New York.

2012 Honoree: Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder is a poet, essayist, and activist. He was a professor in the writing program of the University of California, Davis, and served as a member of the California Arts Council. His works include Turtle Island and Mountains and Rivers Without End. He has received the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award, the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, the John Hay Award for Nature Writing, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

2011 Honoree: E.O. Wilson

E.O. Wilson

E.O. Wilson is a biologist and naturalist, and the author of more than 30 books and more than 430 scientific papers. He is considered the world's leading expert on myrmecology, the study of ants. With Robert MacArthur he developed the theory of island biogeography. In 2000, Time and Audubon magazines named him one of the 100 Leading Environmentalists of the Century. He has received more than 150 prestigious awards and medals around the world, as well as more than 40 honorary doctorates.

2010 Honoree: Gretel Ehrlich

Gretel Ehrlich

Gretel Ehrlich is a novelist, poet, and essayist. Her works include The Solace of Open Spaces; Heart Mountain; Islands, the Universe, Home; This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland, and a biography of John Muir. She has received a Bellagio Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, the Harold B. Vurcell Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, and two Expedition Council Grants from the National Geographic Society.