President Pitchford's Essay Earns International Award

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Dominican University of California President Nicola Pitchford has received the inaugural Nature Chronicles Prize for her essay “A Parable of Arable Land.”

The Nature Chronicles Prize is a new biennial, international, English-language literary award that aims to find engaging essay-length works that share a commitment to truth-telling and respond to the time we are in and the world as it is. The prize was created in memory of Prudence Scott, a lifelong nature diarist who died in 2019.

President Pitchford’s winning essay weaves together personal narrative and historical analysis, in threads including the story of her father’s life as a hydrological engineer who aided the development and spread of industrial-scale irrigation technologies in the late 20th century, to create a parable for the failure of the richer nations’ attitudes to water, militarism, and the exploitation of nature.

The essay ranges across various landscapes, from northern England’s Lake District, to the Libyan Sahara desert (site of the ambitious agricultural schemes of General Muammar al-Qaddafi), to the vast farms of California’s Central Valley.

President Pitchford, a British immigrant, has published poetry and literary criticism and studied at Pomona College, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the 2018 Rural Writing Institute.

“To win this prize, especially in its inaugural awarding, is a really big honor and I’m thrilled,” President Pitchford says. “Nonfiction nature writing has seen a huge resurgence in influence and breadth in recent years, as a form of writing that speaks to the context of environmental crisis and our collective longing to escape from pressures on mental health and wellness.”

“As nature writing evolves, it also expands to include more people’s differing experiences of land and place. For me, it allows me to combine my lifelong love of the natural world with a chance to reflect on the urgent injustices tearing our social fabric apart, which nature is not free from. Particularly as an immigrant who grew up in a green rural place but has come to love deeply the dry hills of Marin and the deserts of the American West, I can use writing about place as a way to approach questions of identity and belonging, and of how to be responsible to the world immediately around me.”

The winner was announced on November 17 at the Kendal Mountain Literature Festival in the United Kingdom. Kathryn Aalto (historian), Elizabeth-Jane Burnett (writer and academic), Matthew Cobb (professor of zoology), Sara Hunt (publisher), and Will Smith (academic) were this year’s jury.

The shortlisted essays and writers are:

  • “Q is for Garden” -  Jenny Chamarette
  • “The Fence” -  Laura Coleman
  • “Last Flight of the Goshawk?” -  Ben Crane
  •  “A Parable of Arable Land” - Nicola Pitchford
  • “None of This Should Be Here” - Joanna Pocock
  • “City of Covid Trees” - Neha Sinha

All six essays will be published in an anthology by UK independent book publisher Saraband Books.

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