Winners Announced

Environmental Writing Competition 2018

Essay — Us on earth.

* This competition is now closed but you are welcome to read through the published writing and blog posts. * 

A couple of years ago, the New York Times announced it was closing its Environment Beat and redistributing its team of environmental reporters to other areas, such as business and politics. It’s not that the environment isn’t important, the Times explained, but that it intersects with so many other disciplines that it can’t be treated in isolation. A story about fracking, for example, is also about economics, health, and industry. With this decision, the Times seemed to be telling their millions of global readers that the environment—a.k.a. the natural world—is a part of everything we do; the environment is a part of us
Whether or not you agree with booting the Beat (critics of the decision say that environmental issues demand urgent and dedicated reporters), the matter brings to light how complex environmental writing is: how ingrained and important these subjects are to everyone, everywhere; and how difficult it is to precisely define this type of writing as a singular genre. 
Which brings us, dear writers, to this month’s competition. No matter your interest, we’re asking you to think about our home (the world), and share with us something about the environment and how humans live in it. You might write about the plight of the polar bear, the rising power of Norway’s Green Party, or the impact of domestic cats on birdlife. Or perhaps, instead, you’ll investigate something more particular to your everyday experience, reflecting on how the environment you live in has shaped your life, your family, your perspective, your health, or your values—growing up in the desert, for example, or cutting fish from your diet, or the smog that closes your school.  
Finding an Approach 
The writer and activist Bill McKibben describes Environmental Writing as "the collision between people and the rest of the world." McKibben is referring to the intersection between humans and the natural world, which might be a helpful way to think about this genre. The word “collision” though, connotes images of unrest, tumult, and struggle; and suggests that we are in some ways separate to the earth and even at odds with nature.  
Another writer and activist, Terry Tempest Williams, gives us a very different way of thinking about the environment: “To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.”  
Williams’ writing about the environment is lyrical and personal. But she is also a fierce advocate, her prose crafted with purpose. It is the act of storytelling, she says, that allows writers to “bypass rhetoric and pierce the heart.” In other words, writing about the connection between humans and their home has the power to cross political and social divides. This power is displayed in an anecdote Williams tells about flying over the Gulf Coast to see the devastation wreaked by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill: “Our eyes were burning and it was horrible. I asked the pilot what was the worst thing he had seen, and he said that the most moving thing he saw was when they had set fire to the ocean and were burning the surface oil to get rid of it, he had seen a line, a pod of dolphins, side by side by side, on the edge of the oil, watching.” 
Williams did not cry at the sight of the oil-slicked sea, but at the beauty of the Gulf left unharmed. “It was the beauty that really broke us open,” she said. Writing with such rawness is what touches readers and guides them to act. “I think when we bear witness, it’s not a passive act. It’s an act of conscience and consciousness that I think does have consequence. I guess it’s a way of saying that unless we grieve what we’re losing, unless we honor the beauty, then we don’t find our way through to that place of action.” 
There are so many ways to write about the environment—so many ways of grieving, honoring, exploring, critiquing, loving, and questioning. While the collision lens is certainly applicable to some stories (see the tsunami story in the Enviro. Lenses resource), Williams reminds us that it is just one method of many when it comes to investigating the relationship between humans and the natural world. We’ve collected some of our favorite approaches to serve as models. Each of the excerpts in this resource shows a different form of humans shaping or being shaped by their environment, and writers writing about it. 
No Matter Your Approach 
Regardless of your chosen beat (ethics or politics, technology or climate), chosen style (personal or journalistic essay), or topic (drought in your community, environmental justice, the neighbor’s pigs, wildfires, your patch of city garden, etc., etc.), keep in mind the following guidelines on how to reach your reader when writing about the environment:
  • What's the Connection? Throughout the writing process, pause to ask yourself: How do we (I) affect the environment and how does it affect us (me)? This question can help you more clearly grasp the relationship you’re exploring through your writing.
  • What are the Stakes? What is the impact of your topic? Who is being affected and why? 
  • What's the Context? What background info does the reader need in order to understand and care about your topic? 
  • What’s Out There? Researching your topic or reading other writing on similar subjects can help you craft your own unique angle. Interviewing other people can also help you generate new and exciting material.
  • What’s the Scope? Whether you’re writing about a personal experience or an international issue, zeroing in and zeroing out can help you reach readers. Consider how your personal story relates to readers across the world, for example, or how a global problem is felt on a local level.
  • What’s at the Heart? Writing with honesty and compassion will, as Williams says, allow you to “bypass the rhetoric and pierce the heart."
Who is Eligible?  
Young writers ages 13-18  
600 – 1,000 words
Guest Judge
Nick Kusnetz 
Best Entry: $100 (winning piece + author interview will be featured on Write the World’s website and blog) 
Runner up: $50 
Best Peer Review: $50 (reviewer interview will be featured on Write the World’s website and blog) 
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions? 

Prizes: The winning entrant(s) will receive $100, and the best peer-reviewer will receive $50.       
Professional Recognition: The winning entry, plus the runner-up and best peer review, will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge.       
Expert Review: Submit your draft by Monday February 12th and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.   

Key Dates 
February 5: Competition Opens  
February 12: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)      
February 16: Reviews returned to Writers  
February 20: Final Submissions Due
March 2: Winners Announced  
Upcoming Competition
Our Op-Ed Writing Competition opens Monday, March 5th.
Stay tuned for more details!  



​Environmental Writing Winner Amber Garma on her Prize Winning Piece!

April 1, 2018

We love seeing the many different approaches in submissions to our monthly writing competition. For February's competition—Environmental Writing—some of you launched large scale investigations into topics such as rising temperatures around the globe and the effectiveness of recycling programs. Others, like Filipino writer Amber Garma, penned more narrative driven pieces about their personal relationship to the world around them. In her entry “The City-Come-of-Age”, Amber moved readers with her heartfelt reflections on leaving, and then returning to, Cabanatuan, a city in a constant state of flux and urbanization. Read more about Amber’s ever-evolving relationship with her hometown and her views on the importance of being part of a writing community.

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Environmental Writing Competition Winners Announced!

March 2, 2018

After reading all of the wonderful entries in our Environmental Writing Competition, one thing’s for sure: the future of our planet is looking mighty bright with all of you at the helm! Writers penned pieces about everything from the Paris Climate Accord to the vital role of bees. Guest Judge and Environmental Writer Nicholas Kusnetz shares which of these thought-provoking pieces he’s selected for Best Entry, Runner Up and Best Peer Review.

Read About the Winners

Q&A with Environmental Writing Competition Guest Judge Nicholas Kusnetz

February 9, 2018

The work of our Environmental Writing competition guest judge Nicholas Kusnetz has been featured in publications like The Washington Post, Businessweek, Mother Jones and The New York Times. So, who better to help guide you through the process of writing a stellar competition entry than Nicholas himself!?  Check out our blog to read Nicholas’ advice on the editing process, which publications you can check out for inspiration, and how to wow him with your competition entry.

Read Blog Post

February Spotlight: The Nature of Nature

February 8, 2018

If you need inspiration to get started, resident blogger Lisa Hiton has dedicated her monthly Spotlight blog to her favorite environmental texts. Lisa walks us through books like Henry David Thoreau's beloved Walden and The Ecopoetry Anthology (edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth & Laura Gray-Street), which “shows us an entire world within the larger genre that is concerned with how we humans occupy the splendor of the world at large.”

Check it out