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Siskiyou Prize honors environmental scientist's memoirs

Kudos to environmental scientist Mary Heather Noble. She is the winner of the Ashland Creek Press Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature for her manuscript, “Plumes: On Contamination of Homes and Habitat.”

Ashland Creek Press is known for publishing books that call attention to environmental issues and also speak to readers' sense of responsibility for protecting and defending the environment. Midge Raymond, co-founder and co-editor of the independent publishing company with her husband, John Yunker, says the company created the Siskiyou Prize this year to spotlight environmental writers and their work. “We started it to bring more attention to environmental writing and we thought a great way to bring attention to these issues is to offer an award,” said Raymond.

The annual award is open to unpublished, full-length prose manuscripts, including novels, memoirs, short story collections and essay collections. The winner receives an offer of publication by Ashland Creek Press, a cash award of $1,000 and a four-week residency at PLAYA, a creative retreat in Lake County, Oregon.

Raymond and her husband read about 100 submissions. “We were so impressed by the quality of submissions, which made the decision-making a challenge,” she said.

The submissions are blind, so the readers saw only the work and knew nothing about the writers who submitted. They chose the top three submissions and forwarded them to their judge, best-selling author Karen Joy Fowler. Fowler has written three short-story collections and six novels, including the acclaimed “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” a novel that explores animal intelligence and animal-protection themes.

Raymond says they chose Fowler as a judge because her work reflected some of the goals and concerns of their company. “We fell in love with her writing and the work she is doing for animals,” said Raymond.

Fowler selected Noble's book for the award because she was impressed with the intelligence and beautiful writing in the book, as well as the author's ability to balance universal concerns with personal experiences. Noble's memoir concerns pollution and the growing toxicity in the world. Noble is an environmental scientist and writer whose work is inspired by environmental health issues, family and sustainability.

“Her book is beautifully written. It's gorgeous and poetic, and there is so much passion in her writing,” said Raymond. “Her background in environmental science and writing is a really cool merging of science and art.”

Raymond says she is happy with the number of submissions for a first-time prize with a relatively narrow focus, and she hopes even more writers will submit in the future. “We are looking for environmental writing, but we aren't limited to a certain type of work. We received a little bit of everything, fiction, non-fiction, essays, memoirs, novels, science-fiction, short story collections. It was great to see such variety because environmental writing comes in all forms and all genres.”

Raymond encourages writers to submit work they are passionate about.

“You can read some of the books we publish to get a sense of what resonates for us, but really what we want is passion about the topic, and we like to be surprised,” she said. “Mainly, we just look for great stories well told.”

Ashland Creek Press will begin accepting submissions in the spring for the 2015 Siskiyou Prize. For more information, visit http://siskiyouprize.com. For more information about Ashland Creek Press, visit http://www.ashlandcreekpress.com.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at decker4@gmail.com.