Speaker: David George Haskell

Songs of Trees: Interconnections Between People and Trees

"He thinks like a biologist, writes like a poet, and gives the natural world the kind of open-minded attention one expects from a Zen monk rather than a hypothesis-driven scientist." --A profile of David Haskell by James Gorman in The New York Times 

David Haskell’s work integrates scientific, literary, and contemplative studies of the natural world.

His latest book, The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors (Viking, 2017), examines the many ways that trees and humans are connected. Haskell spent two years visiting 12 sites around the world to reveal the surprising—and surprisingly fascinating—arboreal secrets hidden in the canopies of ordinary trees. Deborah Blum, Pulitzer winner and director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT says of The Songs of Trees, “David George Haskell may be the finest literary nature writer working today. The Songs of Trees – compelling, lyrical, wise – is a case in point.”

In the words of a recent profile, “Haskell believes that we live in a world of countless untold stories hiding in plain sight. In [his first book, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature (Viking, 2012)], he selected a square meter of forest floor and visited that spot almost daily for a year. That’s the entire book, all 288 pages of it, him staring at the ground. But Haskell leveraged three remarkable strengths—vast scientific knowledge, prodigious literary gifts, and a deeply meditative approach to fieldwork—to extract from that patch of dirt characters, relationships, drama, and universal themes.”

The Forest Unseen was finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction, winner of the National Academies’ Best Book Award for 2013, winner of the 2013 Reed Environmental Writing Award, winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History Literature, runner-up for the 2013 PEN E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, and winner, in its Chinese translation, of the 2016 Shenzheng Dapeng Nature Writing Award.  E. O. Wilson wrote that The Forest Unseen was “a new genre of nature writing, located between science and poetry.”

Haskell has also written about the biology of climate change and same-sex marriage for The New York Times, and blogs about his rambles into nature.

Haskell holds degrees from the University of Oxford (BA) and from Cornell University (PhD). He is Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, where he served as Chair of Biology. He is a 2014-2015 Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, and an Elective Member of the American Ornithologists’ Union. His scientific research on animal ecology, evolution, and conservation has been sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the World Wildlife Fund, among others. He serves on the boards and advisory committees of local and national land conservation groups.

Haskell’s classes have received national attention for the innovative ways they combine action in the community with contemplative practice. In 2009, the Carnegie and CASE Foundations named him Professor of the Year for Tennessee, an award given to college professors who have achieved national distinction and whose work shows “extraordinary dedication to undergraduate teaching.” The Oxford American featured him in 2011 as one of the southern U.S.’s most creative teachers. His teaching has been profiled in USA TodayThe Tennesseean, and other newspapers.

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