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University of Iowa News Release

Aug. 14, 2006

Annual Wild Iowa Essay Project Award Winners Announced

Five adults and one youth have been awarded cash prizes for the Wild Iowa Essay Project. The essay project is open to Iowans of all ages and promotes thoughtful writing about the wild in Iowa. To read the awarded essays, visit

Participants were asked to address one or more of the following questions:

* What does/should "wildness" mean to Iowans?

* How have we moved away from the wild in Iowa, and what harm has that caused?

* Where does the wild still exist in Iowa?

* How can Iowans "rewild"?

* What would a "wilder Iowa" be like?

"We received entries from all over Iowa, from kids up to senior citizens," said Thomas Dean, project coordinator and special assistant to the University of Iowa president. "It was a really interesting batch of writing this time out, as it was last year too. People were writing about their own backyards to whatever types of wilderness activities you can find in Iowa."

In the adult category, Ryan Atwell, of Ames, received a $300 award for his essay, "Human Nature?" John Pearson, of Indianola, was also awarded $300. His essay was titled, "Red Rock Reflections on the Windsong." Two individuals received $200 awards for their pieces. Michael Clark, of Iowa City, won for his essay, "Deep Time," and Jennifer Hall, of Lovilia, won for her essay, "Knees Shook." Jennifer New, of Iowa City, was awarded $100 for her piece, "Beyond the Wild Wood." Peter A. Fritzell, Jr., of Ames, and Dave Layton, of Clinton, received Honorable Mentions for their essays.

Atwell's essay, "Human Nature?" juxtaposes his years in the Wyoming wilderness with his return to Iowa for graduate studies in ecology. Pearson's essay, "Red Rock Reflections on the Windsong," focuses on the author's experiences in the man-made Red Rock Reservoir on the Des Moines River, and his quest for a wind song in a distinctly "unwild" landscape. 

In the youth category, Matthew Digman, a seventh grader from West Des Moines, received a $50 award for his essay, "Iowa Wilderness." May Atkinson, of Iowa City; Jessica Schultes, of Carroll; and Neil Wenthe, of Ionia, received Honorable Mentions.

Digman's essay, "Iowa Wilderness," traces the history of Iowa wilderness, looks at the present state of the wild in Iowa and suggests changes for improvement. In his piece, Digman points out that about two percent of Iowa's land is devoted to natural areas, such as national, state and city parks.

"The project is truly open to everyone," Dean said. "We really were looking for quality of writing and ideas - uniqueness of ideas and how those ideas might push this conversation about wildness out in the open."

Awardees were invited to read from their essays publicly at the Second Annual Iowa Conference on the Wild, "Live Well, Live Wild," at the UI April 24-25. The conference was sponsored by The Iowa Project on Place Studies, The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation's Agrestal Fund, Humanities Iowa, The UI Year of Public Engagement, The University of Iowa Press, Environmental Advocates, The Midland Roots Regional Culture Initiative, The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and The Standing By Words Center.

The Iowa Project on Place Studies (IPOPS) co-sponsored the project with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation's Agrestal Fund. An interdisciplinary group of UI faculty and staff, IPOPS members study the concept of place and its manifestations worldwide and who foster collaborative projects with local, state and regional communities. The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation's Agrestal Fund and its partners aspire to foster a statewide rumination about holding on and letting go; about personal and collective journeys seeking balance in nature and life; and the free human spirit living within us all.

For more information about the project, e-mail Thomas Dean at, or by phone at 319-335-1995.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Stephen J. Pradarelli, 319-384-0007,; Program: Thomas Dean, 319-335-1995,; Writer: Kelli Andresen

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