Noted biologist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson has been selected to receive the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year for 2016. The award is made to a living, nationally recognized Alabama writer who has made a significant, lifelong contribution to Alabama letters. Wilson will receive the honor during the Awards Dinner at the The Alabama Writers Symposium in Monroeville, Alabama, on March 31, 2016.
“Although—perhaps because—I'm primarily a scientist, I'm doubly honored to receive the Harper Lee Award, in recognition of the literary side of my life,” said Wilson. “Actually, triply honored to have it come from the state and region I love and have tried to honor in works of both fiction and nonfiction.”
The author of thirty-one books, Wilson is generally recognized as one of the several leading biologists in the world. He is acknowledged as the creator of two scientific disciplines (island biogeography and sociobiology), three unifying concepts for science and the humanities jointly (biophilia, biodiversity studies, and consilience), and one major technological advance in the study of global biodiversity (the Encyclopedia of Life). Among more than one hundred awards he has received worldwide are the U. S. National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize (equivalent of the Nobel, for ecology) of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the International Prize of Biology of Japan; and in letters, two Pulitzer Prizes in non-fiction, the Nonino and Serono Prizes of Italy, and the COSMOS Prize of Japan. He is currently Honorary Curator in Entomology and University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University. His most recent book is The Meaning of Human Existence (Liveright Publishing Company, 2014).
“In his life’s work, Edward O. Wilson has written about the social activities of insects, primarily the ant, and he extrapolates from the natural world to explain the human,” said Jeanie Thompson, Alabama Writers’ Forum Executive Director. “Perceiving the world with a poet’s sensibility, he gives us a deepened awareness of our fellow humans. I go to his works, just as I go to all creative writers’ works, to understand better why the world operates the way it does—and to gain solace. Wilson’s writing affords us a window into the unfathomable.”
Wilson received his BS degree from the University of Alabama in 1949. He followed that with an MS the next year. He often returns to his alma mater to spend time with students and colleagues. Dean Robert Olin of UA’s College of Arts and Science acknowledged Wilson’s commitment to his school and his home state.
“Ed Wilson is a dedicated alumnus of The University of Alabama,” said Olin. “He has returned countless times to lecture and conduct field work with students. He has established at UA the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Fellowships, which support graduate students who conduct field research in Alabama’s woods. And he has also chosen his alma mater to be the perpetual home of his more than 150 international medals and prizes. We are delighted to know that the Harper Lee Award, which so appropriately recognizes Ed Wilson’s vast work and his devotion and understanding of Alabama, will be included in that prized collection.”
Wilson’s other current projects include the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation in Durham, N.C., whose stated mission is “to foster a knowing stewardship of our world through biodiversity research and education initiatives that promote and inform worldwide preservation of our biological heritage.” It further states, “We believe that by enhancing our public understanding of biodiversity, we can foster a culture of stewardship in which people are inspired to conserve and protect the natural world.”
Two of Wilsons’ current stewardship projects are the self-described “boosting” of two nature preserves— the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center on Nokuse Plantation in Walton County, Fla., and the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique.
In September 2015, PBS aired Of Ants and Men, a documentary that explores Wilson’s life and work. An Alabama Public Television (APTV) synopsis of the film states, “E.O. Wilson’s Of Ants and Men inspires viewers with Wilson’s revolutionary thinking and joyful exploration of the natural world, painting an engaging portrait of an extraordinary man often called ‘a Darwin for the modern day.’ Through engaging interviews and investigations around the globe, the film brings together three great themes of Wilson’s life and work: the wonder of nature; the evolution of human social behavior; and humanity’s need to come to terms with our place in the natural world.”
The film will air again on APTV on December 20, 2015, at noon.
Immediately following the September broadcast of Of Ants and Men, APTV aired an episode of its nature series Discovering Alabama, hosted by Doug Phillips. The program, Dr. E.O. Wilson: A Discovering Alabama Special, highlighted Phillips’ interviews with Wilson over the past thirty years.
“Dr. Wilson has given graciously in visiting Alabama and granting on-camera interviews for a number of Discovering Alabama documentaries,” said Phillips. “Often these occasions have included time for him and me to stroll the backwoods or drive the backroads and enjoy the wonderful wilds of our state. The world may appreciate my friend Ed Wilson for his great scientific stature, but I appreciate him also for his great love for Alabama. And, certainly, Ed’s profound contributions to eco-literature make him fully deserving of the Harper Lee Award.”
APTV will re-broadcast Dr. E.O. Wilson: A Discovering Alabama Special immediately following the December 20 airing of Of Ants and Men.
The Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year, presented annually by Alabama Southern Community College at the Alabama Writers Symposium in Monroeville, is made possible through a generous grant from George F. Landegger, Chairman, Parsons & Whittemore.
The Alabama Writers’ Forum, a statewide literary arts organization and partnership program of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, coordinates the process to select the Harper Lee Award recipient annually from nominations from the field.
Photo of E.O. Wilson by Beth Maynor