Haskell on his Pulitzer nomination, publishing, and popular science

by Lily Davenport

On Monday, April 15, Dr. David Haskell, Professor of Biology and author of The Forest Unseen, received a puzzling message. The voice on his answering machine congratulated him, but did not specify what for. As Haskell recalled, “I had no idea [what was going on]… I googled myself to find out what had happened.”

Haskell quickly discovered that The Forest Unseen, already the winner of the 2013 Reed Environmental Writing Award and the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History Literature, had been listed as a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Non Fiction. The Pulitzer Nominating Jury for Non Fiction chooses three such finalists each year, whose works are submitted to the Pulitzer Committee for consideration.

Haskell was completely stunned. “I had no idea that [The Forest Unseen] was under consideration… It was gratifying that writing about the natural world would be held up by the Pulitzer board.”

When asked if he thought the nomination represented a growing appreciation of science and nature in American popular culture, Haskell replied that while the current cultural and technological climate has made it easier for people who “have the inclination towards scientific stories” to find such material, there is also a strong trend towards being “plugged in… at home on the asphalt and nowhere else.”

That dependence on electronics has also fostered new ways of writing about science, some of which Haskell has explored himself – particularly the rapid, visually involved form of publication that is blogging, and the near-poetic, “constrained form” of Twitter. You can find his blog at davidhaskell.wordpress.com, and his Twitter at twitter.com/DGHaskell.

These remarks do come with a caveat; Haskell maintains that the printed book will endure. “Books ask more of you. You have to use the imagination… you sit down to read, and you’re in another world. As long as people are still willing to imagine, and come along for the ride, that market will still be there.”

In Haskell’s words, “the take-home message is in two parts. First, I’m absolutely stunned and delighted. And I hope that, through The Forest Unseen, people will learn to see their world in a bit of a different way.”