American naturalists are noted for combining philosophy and writing in ways that have affected how concerned citizens value and care for their environment. Edwin Way Teale, a Hoosier Pulitzer winner and mid-century nature writer, has been called one of the twentieth century’s most influential naturalists because of his ability to combine the artistic, philosophical and scientific in his writing. His significant contributions to the field of environmental literature are part of the inspiration behind Indiana Humanities’ new initiative, Next Indiana Campfires.
Naturalists, conservationists, writers and reviewers have ranked Teale among the renowned American naturalists who preceded him, including John Muir, John Burroughs and Henry David Thoreau.
Teale credited his career to his rich childhood spent in the Indiana Dunes, where he developed a love for nature, an eye for photography and an accessible writing style. He immortalized his boyhood adventures in Dune Boy and later works, including Wandering through Winter, for which he became the first naturalist to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Born Edwin Alfred Teale on June 2, 1899 in Joliet, Illinois, he changed his name to “the more distinguished” Edwin Way Teale at the age of twelve. He later detailed his rejection of the dismal industrial landscape of his parents’ home. Teale instead favored the holidays and summers he spent with “Gram and Gramp” exploring their Lone Oak Farm in Indiana’s scenic and iconic lakeshore dunes.
With the 1943 publication of Dune Boy, Teale captured the natural wonders of the Indiana Dunes in a way that made even readers who had never visited the area care about the unique ecological zone. Dune Boy received a long and glowing review in the New York Times. The reviewer alluded to the book and Teale’s childhood, as representative of something inherently American. The reviewer stated that “Dune Boy is not only the record of a naturalist’s beginnings but one of our many-sided American way of life.”
Indicative of the book’s popularity, the army distributed more than 100,000 copies of Dune Boy during World War II. These “armed service editions” were printed by the Council on Books in Wartime.” Their slogan was “books are weapons in the war on ideas.” Teale commented that “he heard from many who had read it while engaged in battle for freedom in all parts of the world” and some scholars have suggested that the book presents “a timeless model of the democratic common life, for many . . . an image of their real American homeland.”
Through this and other books aimed at a popular audience, Teale was able to convince people that they had a personal stake in preserving the American landscape, thus encouraging support for national parks and conservation movements.
We’re excited that Indiana Humanities is helping to highlight great Hoosier authors, like Teale, that have written about their relationship to nature and helped define our connection to our state’s landscape.
This blog post was written by Jill Weiss of the Indiana Historical Bureau.
Next Indiana Campfires is a unique way to connect nature, literature and Indiana’s Bicentennial. The program is supported by the Efroymson Family Fund, Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfires. Indiana Humanities is supported in part by Lilly Endowment Inc. and the National Endowment of the Humanities.
Next Indiana Campfires is part of the Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfires Initiative, a joint venture of the Pulitzer Prizes Board and the Federation of State Humanities Council in celebration of the 2016 centennial of the Prizes. The initiative seeks to illuminate the impact of journalism and the humanities on American life today, to imagine their future and to inspire new generations to consider the values represented by the body of Pulitzer Prize-winning work. For their generous support for the Campfires Initiative, we thank the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Pulitzer Prizes Board and Columbia University.