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Nature and Environmental Poetry Competition 2021

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“Wildness,” says environmental writer Terry Tempest Williams, “reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” 
And yet, dear writers, mainstream nature and environmental writing—including poetry—has traditionally been dominated by voices not of the many, but of the few. As the poet Melissa Tuckey says, the image nature writing conjures is often a white male going into the wilderness to “recreate in tranquility”, rather than “nature as a place intimately connected to human habitation, culture, and identity.”  
In reality, though, writing about nature and the environment has “old and diverse roots”. Professor of environmental studies Lauret E. Savoy reminds us that 100 hundred years ago, the author W.E.B. Du Bois “wrote about his visits to the Grand Canyon and Acadia and his own sense of nature in the book Darkwater. But how many people know this?” As the editor of the anthology of Black nature writing, Camille Dungy put it, “When I published Black Nature, I would hear from people, ‘I never really thought about black people writing about the natural world …’ But it’s been happening for 400 years. That voice has been erased and silenced.” 
In this way, the genre has served to disconnect rather than connect us to the shared mosaic of relationships we have to the environment, past and present. What’s more, thinking of nature as separate from us, Tuckey says, “creates a dichotomy between humans and nature, breaking our connection to it.” 
But all that has been changing, dear writers, as more voices have broken through what Savoy refers to as the “echo chamber”. And your voices are needed, too! 
This month, join us in investigating and celebrating all the myriad connections between humans and nature through an original poem about your (or our) relationship to the natural world or environment. As Terry Tempest Williams explains, writing about what is important to us personally, in a creative form—be it storytelling or poetry—is what allows us to “bypass rhetoric and pierce the heart.”

Perhaps your poem will…
  • “IMAGINE ‘ENVIRONMENT’ BROADLY”. How might you conjure nature and the environment “not just as surroundings,” as Savoy puts it—“not just as the air, water, and land on which we depend, or that we pollute; not just as global warming—but as sets of circumstances, conditions, and contexts in which we live and die”? Might your poem in some way address or acknowledge that the environment we experience depends on the set of factors we were each born into: geographic, financial, racial, political, and more? As Savoy reminds us, our relationship to the environment includes places that are degraded and urban—not just those that are pristine.  
  • FOCUS ON AN ELEMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT UNDER THREAT. What part of the environment around you is worthy of attention and protection? The air in your city? The fire-prone hillsides surrounding your neighborhood? 
  • BEAR WITNESS TO CHANGE. How has the environment you live in transformed since you were a child?
  • HONOR THE PLANET WE CALL HOME. What nourishes and sustains you? What connects you to the natural world? The bird song that wakes you each morning? The ancient olive tree at your city’s edge? The glaciers that feed your region’s rivers?
It’s time to “bypass the rhetoric,” dear poets—write your way into the hearts of your waiting readers.
* Quotes from Tuckey, Savoy, and Dungy are from Catherine Buni’s Los Angeles Review of Books article “Toward a Wider View of ‘Nature Writing’” 

Who is Eligible?  
Young writers ages 13-18  
500 words maximum.

Guest Judge
Ellen van Neerven is a Mununjali writer, editor and educator based in Meanjin. They are passionate about creating change through writing. Their key writing interests are in poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction. Ellen’s award-winning books include Heat and Light (2014), Comfort Food (2016), Throat (2020) and Flock (ed. 2021)  

  • Best Entry: $100 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the winning piece, and an interview with the author will be featured on Write the World’s blog) 
  • Runner up: $50 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the piece will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
  • Best Peer Review: $50 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the best peer review and an interview with the reviewer will be featured on Write the World’s blog)    
Our cash prizes this month are generously sponsored by High Mountain Institute! Ambitious, motivated students attend the High Mountain Institute to connect with nature, develop as leaders and critical thinkers, and discover learning at its best. Students spend time living on campus and in the backcountry of Colorado and Utah. When nature and minds meet, extraordinary academic and personal achievement follows. Learn more about them here

We welcome marketing support from River of Words®! River of Words (ROW) is a program of The Center for Environmental Literacy and a part of the Saint Mary's College of California Kalmanovitz School of Education. Acknowledged pioneers in the field of place-based education, River of Words has been inspiring educators and students for over twenty five years with an innovative blend of science and the arts.

To learn more about how to submit your environmental writing (or Write the World competition entry!) to the River of Words competition, please visit the ROW website here.

What’s Different about Write the World Competitions? 
  • Prizes: The winning entrant will receive $100, and the runner-up and 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, October 11, and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.  
Key Dates 
  • October 4: Competition Opens  
  • October 11: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)      
  • October 15: Reviews returned to Writers  
  • October 19: Final Submissions Due
  • October 29: Winners Announced  
WtW Workshops!
Like this competition and looking to take your poetry to the next level? Register for our environmental poetry workshop Use Your Voice: Writing Poetry for the Environment!

Upcoming Competition
Our Novel Writing Competition opens Monday, November 1st.
Stay tuned for more details!  

Is previously published work eligible?
Our monthly competitions are designed to get you writing across a range of genres throughout the year, so we encourage you to  write a new work for each  competition, but we will also accept work that has been previously shared with a small, local audience (for instance, a piece that was published in a school journal).

How to Enter 
  1. If you haven’t yet, sign up for a free account for Write the World as a young writer here
  2. Hit the “Start Writing” button above! 
  3. Draft your entry! Hit “Save” to return to it later. 
  4. The first 100 people to submit a draft will receive an in-depth review from one of our Expert Reviewers—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals—that you can use to revise your final entry. The “Submit for Expert Review” button will be clickable if slots are still available—click it to have your draft reviewed. (Note: you can still enter the competition if you haven’t received or don’t want to receive an Expert Review!) 
  5. When you are ready to submit your entry, hit the "Submit as Final" button (You can revise, re-publish, and mark any version as your "final submission" until the deadline.)
  6. Only one entry per person, please. 
Writing Guidelines
The power of our writing goes hand in hand with responsibility. Make sure that you’re supporting other people through your writing rather than pulling them down. The types of content that will be removed from the site include, but are not limited to:   
  • Anything that may be deemed hurtful, defamatory or discriminatory in nature.
  • Anything deemed explicit or gratuitously violent.
  • Anything referencing self-harm. 
  • Any commercial posts and/or spam. 
  • Plagiarism (see more at our Writing Guidelines page). 
  • Personal contact information—including usernames on social media or other platforms. This is to protect the privacy of our members.
  • Links to any external websites, with the exception of links to citations as part of an essay, or including links to illustrations or audio as part of a Write the World competition or prompt.
If a writer posts content that violates our terms or goes against our guidelines, we will remove the post and contact the writer when necessary.  Please refer to our Writing Guidelines and site’s terms for further information.
All final submissions will automatically be published on Write the World’s website.


Due Dates
  • Oct 11 - Drafts Due for Expert Review

  • Oct 19 - Competition Deadline