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Writing to Inspire a LOVE FOR NATURE and a Passion for its ProtectionPatty MaherThe importance of wilderness as inspiration is primal. Mother Earth, the land, the sea and sky are embedded deep into each of our souls. When we are in wild areas, and connect with nature, we are replenished and filled again with life’s elixir. Writers can convey and enlighten others with their words. They can move their readers to be envoys, spreading that awareness and love of nature, to those in their communities. The International League of Conservation Writers brings writers (and other creatives) together in their efforts to promote the benefits and protection of natural areas around the world. Needed now, more than any other time in recent history, writers can inform and change hearts through their enlightened and passionate prose. Not imagined until 2009, ILCW grew out of the writers’ seminars held during the World Wilderness Congress four years earlier. In 2005 when the 8th World Wilderness Congress was coming to Anchorage, Alaska it was a unique opportunity to hold a collection of writers’ seminars to inspire one another and to connect with like-minded writers from around the globe. It was a tradition that has been at every World Wilderness Congress going forward.
The Writers’ Seminars were sponsored by Fulcrum Publishing (Wheat Ridge, Colorado, USA) who had produced (with the Wild Foundation) 20-plus years of the International Journal of Wilderness and has been the leading publisher of conservation books in the United States for more than thirty years. The Conservation Writers Rendezvous, the first writers’ seminar, focused on Writing and Advocacy, Writings and Readings about Alaska, Native Writings from North America, and Recognition and Encouragement of Writers. Each afternoon the seminar ended with a discussion about a special place in the world that writers hold dear.
Thirty writers took part in the three-afternoon event. Many were from the United States like Dave Foreman (The Wilderness Society, and co-founder of Earth First!), poet John Haines (winner of the first Wilderness Writing Award), David Quammen (The Song of the Dodo), Doug Scott (winner of the John Muir Award), Bill Sherwonit (Alaskan writer and journalist), and Charles Wohlforth (The Whale and the Supercomputer). There were also Native American writers like Marilou Awiakta, and Daniel R. Wildcat, along with international writers from the UK and Germany. Several of the writers were also gifted photographers like Ulf Doerner, Boyd Norton, Nick Jans, and Seth Kantner. A survey was conducted among the attendees to see who they read for inspiration and who they felt were the most influential writers in conservation. The survey harvested 120 authors out of which came the book Heaven and Nature Sing (Fulcrum Publishing), a suggested reading list of books about conservation and the land, that were important when they were written and are still readable today. Four years later at the ninth World Wilderness Congress in 2009, (WILD 9), the Writers’ Seminar was held in Merida, Mexico. The three afternoons of the seminar included a more international list of panelists with writers from Europe, North America, South Africa and India. There were lively discussions about using writing to spark inspiration in others, because if people love the natural world, they will work to protect it; and about getting the message out through the various media that was available, and how to engage with your reader; there was also a session on learning from the experts where we heard from editors and other writers about how to connect and get published. This session featured a live-feed from the US to Mexico with Les Line, the editor of Audubon magazine (from 1966-1991) who interacted with the audience on the large screen of the movie theater. In 2009, live-feed meetings were not ubiquitous as they are today. Les took the audience comments and answered questions in real time. It became clear that these writers needed an organization like the International League of Conservation Photographers (launched four years earlier in Alaska) thus, the International League of Conservation Writers (ILCW) was born at WILD 9. The difference is, ILCW members do not have to be only writers, membership includes all who use the creative arts to inspire a love of nature and a passion for its protection. ILCW members include artists, cartoonists, photographers, sculptures, actors, and of course writers of all kinds. Currently there are 325 members from 42 countries. To apply to become a member, visit the ILCW web page at ilcwriters.org/application.html for the application. In 2013 WILD 10 was held in Salamanca, Spain and the Writers’ Seminars were again available to all interested. There was a strong turnout with attendees spilling out into the hall. Panelists were from Russia, Mexico, the U.S., Hungary, Africa, India and Germany and spoke about using one’s writing to complement their creations—such as photography, music, painting and filmmaking. Good writing is needed to inform the public about an upcoming art show, or for the article that will accompany award-winning photographs, or for the script for a film that will move the public to action. The seminar, through the eyes of an editor, had editors discuss the ins and outs of good writing. While another seminar addressed the geography of writing–dealing with language barriers, governmental censorship, personal safety and cultural challenges. But Covid changed the plans for the March 2020 Jaipur, India WILD 11 Congress that was interrupted by the pandemic. This important gathering, and it was not to be. But one is encouraged to attend future World Wilderness Congresses, as the speakers and those attending are amazing, passionate individuals. Occasional Writing Awards ILCW recognizes writers who excel in their field with occasional writing awards. One being the Wilderness Writing Award. This award, a collaborative project between The Wild Foundation, Fulcrum Publishing, and the ILCW, was launched at the 8th World Wilderness Congress in Anchorage, Alaska (2005). The award is for lifetime achievement and is in recognition of a living writer’s published body of work relating to meaningful and significant writing on wild nature, the environment, or the land. Published writers from anywhere in the world are eligible. Nominations are to be in English, but the body of work does not need to be in English. Members of ILCW are eligible to nominate candidates. Past winners include Gretel Ehrlich, U.S. (2017); 2015 Kenneth Brower, U.S. (2015); Joaquín Araújo, Spain (2013); Michael Frome, U.S. (2011); Ian McCallum, South Africa (2009); Bittu Sahgal, India (2007), and John Haines, U.S. (2005). ILCW also offers the Unsung Hero Award. This award recognizes those who steadily work to protect or raise awareness of the natural world. They may not come to wide-spread attention, but their efforts are very important, nonetheless. Harry Keys of New Zealand is thus far the only ILCW Unsung Hero Award recipient.
If you are a writer, bringing awareness to the plight of our natural world, or showing the majesty and beauty of wild nature through your words, thank you for all you do. If you are interested in learning more about ILCW or becoming a member, please go to ilcwriters.org/application.html. We look forward to hearing from you.