A haunting reflection on a New Mexico landscape ravaged by wildfires was the top winner in the inaugural Janelle Joseph Prize for Environmental Writing, sponsored by the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE).
In all, six University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students were honored in the contest, created through the generosity of iSEE supporter Janelle Joseph.
“I am proud to donate and beyond proud to see talented environmentalists put their research and experiences on the page,” Joseph said.
Entrants competed for cash prizes and the chance to have their work published in Q Magazine, a student-written, professionally curated publication of the undergraduate Certificate in Environmental Writing (CEW) program. Q tackles big environmental questions, such as the threat of black carbon, battles over water resources, and the everyday items that clog our waste stream.
The Joseph Prize winners used their talent to highlight pressing environmental issues, from the degradation of the coal industry to sustainable fashion to the future of lawns.
“Burn Zone,” by Illinois senior Andy Sima, was the Grand Prize winner, carrying a $1,000 award. Sima writes of working in a camp near Philmont, N.M., in the summer of 2019, just over a mountain ridge from a “shell-shocked” landscape left behind by a wildfire the previous year.
“It was eerie. Thousands of acres of land hung just north of us like a specter, out of sight behind a ridge. A looming corpse of the earth over the cliff. That cliff stopped the fire from reaching out camp; the stone was too steep for the tongues of heat to consume their way down. But that thin strip of projected stone marked a stark contrast; one side was a standard southwestern alpine forest, tall trees and stubby grasses. The other was seemingly death incarnate.”
Other award-winning pieces included:
- Op-ed: “The Façade of Corporate Sustainability,” by Jennifer Coronel, who decries the practice of “greenwashing” by corporations that create a false image of sustainability.
- Q&A: “Tackling the Fashion Industry,” by Jane Halloran, a conversation with a U of I sophomore who founded a sustainable fashion swapping service.
- Memoir: “Paradises in Peril,” by Maria Maring, a reflection on “solastalgia” — the distress caused by environmental degradation — pegged to John Prine’s song about his hometown in Kentucky’s coal country.
- Feature: “The Grass Isn’t Always Greener,” by Nicolas Ramkumar, an exploration of the environmental and health costs of the ideal American lawn.
- Graduate student: “Children of the Future: Challenging Climate Change Through TEK,” by Kutasha Silva. She argues that holistic Traditional Ecological Knowledge transferred down through generations should be infused into 21st century environmental education to help children fight climate change and develop a sustainable future.
All five category winners received $500 prizes, and the four undergraduates will have their work published in Q.
“We were thrilled with the response to the contest. We had so many thoughtful and inspired entries that we hope to publish some of the other pieces on our websites,” said Professor Gillen Wood, Director of the CEW Program and iSEE Associate Director for Education and Outreach. “Congratulations to all the winners!”
The writing contest, which will be offered again next year, is open to Illinois students from any major, geared toward those with an interest in writing and the environment. Stay tuned to the iSEE website for details on the 2021 contest!
Check out Q Magazine online at q.sustainability.illinois.edu.
— Article by iSEE Communications Specialist Julie Wurth