: The Thoreau Society recently announced that conservationist and best-selling author Dr. Jane Goodall will receive the 2022 Thoreau Prize for Literary Excellence in Nature Writing. The prize will be awarded during the Annual Gathering on the afternoon of July 10 at 2:30pm at the Concord-Carlisle High School. Join in person or virtually via our live-stream. Tickets are available at www.thoreausociety.org
When Goodall was 26 years old, she was dispatched to Tanzania by famed anthropologist Louis Leakey, who had obtained a small grant from the National Geographic Society to fund a study of chimpanzees at Gombe Stream on the edge of Lake Tanganyika. She had been working for Leakey as a secretary. In 1960, with no formal scientific education, she arrived at the research outpost where her work would take place. She was accompanied by her mother, Margaret.
Goodall is a keen observer and careful to document her daily observations. One day, near the end of the six months afforded by the grant, she happened to be observing a chimpanzee she had named “David Greybeard” for his distinctive appearance. (At the time, the scientific community frowned on assigning human names to primate subjects in the field, supposing identification numbers more objective.) She observed the chimpanzee fashioning a stick into a kind of rod that he then used to capture termites as they swarmed around the opening of their mound.
As the story goes, when she informed Leakey of her discovery, he replied with a telegram that read, “Now we must redefine tool, redefine man, or accept chimpanzees as human.” Previously, it had been thought that only humans make tools. But since Goodall’s watershed research with chimpanzees, we have learned that many other animal species also fashion objects into tools.
Given the momentous discovery, the National Geographic Society naturally extended the research grant for continued work at Gombe. Goodall’s first husband, Baron Hugo van Lawick, began photographing and filming chimpanzees in 1962, helping to document her research at Gombe Stream. The work introduced the world to the Kasekela chimpanzee community, and its now famous members, Flo, Fifi, and Flint.
According to their website, the Jane Goodall Institute, founded in 1977, “continues Dr. Goodall’s pioneering research on chimpanzee behavior—research that transformed scientific perceptions of the relationship between humans and animals.” Today, the Institute remains at the forefront of global advocacy for chimpanzee communities.
Goodall is not only an astute scientific observer, she is also a gifted communicator. The Thoreau Prize Committee, under the auspices of the Thoreau Society, is pleased to recognize Dr. Goodall’s extraordinary literary accomplishments in nature writing. Bestsellers written by Dr. Goodall have included In the Shadow of Man (1971), My Life with the Chimpanzees (1988), Through a Window (1990), and most recently The Book of Hope (Celadon, 2021). She has published books for children as well as adults, and in 1991 she founded Roots and Shoots, an organization that promotes student engagement, from preschool to college age, with environmental, conservation, and humanitarian issues.
The Henry David Thoreau Prize for Literary Excellence in Nature Writing was established as an annual award in 2010 by Dale Peterson to honor a writer of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry whose work embodies Thoreau’s legacy as a gifted stylist, keen naturalist, and social thinker. The Thoreau Society has helped to steward the prize and events since 2017. The prize is given both as a lifetime achievement award and to honor mid-career nature writers of exceptional promise. Previous winners of the Thoreau Prize have included the poets Mary Oliver and Gary Snyder, the author-naturalists Sy Montgomery, Peter Matthiessen, Diane Ackerman and Gretel Ehrlich, the poet, novelist, and essayist Linda Hogan, and field biologists Robin Waller Kimmerer, George Schaller, Bernd Heinrich, and E.O. Wilson.
Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, is the Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace. To learn more about the work of the Jane Goodall Institute, visit www.janegoodall.org
PHOTO: Jane Goodall Institute / by Bill Wallauer Jane Goodall at Gombe Stream National Park.