Although Henry David Thoreau is famous as the man who sought simplicity by living for a few seasons in a tiny cabin at the edge of Walden Pond, he did not intend to live as a hermit, disconnected from all contact with other people. Rather, he hoped to live “deliberately,” as he wrote, “to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach…” We remember him for that bold gesture—placing himself unusually and uncomfortably close to nature.
We also remember him for his ideas, his stature as a thinker and a visionary.
As well, we remember him as an activist, the man who embodied a belief in moral action through non-violent resistance.
And, finally, we remember him because of his own literary excellence. He was a writer who understood words, who cared about language, and who had a keen ability to move others through skilled and original manipulations of language.
Thoreau once declared: "I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society." The task of the Thoreau Prize committee can be summarized very simply. It is to find, among a wealth of contemporary nature writers in English from all genres—poetry, prose, fiction—those few men and women who also, and with a comparable intensity, wish to speak for nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, who most fully embody in their lives and work the spirit of Henry David Thoreau. The Prize, sponsored by The Thoreau Society, Inc., and awarded annually, includes two thousand five hundred dollars and a commemorative gift.