English professor Laura Dassow Walls wins Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Thoreau biography

by Carrie Gates

Laura Dassow Walls, the William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, has won the 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for biography for her latest work, “Henry David Thoreau: A Life.”

 

The prize was announced on April 20, in a ceremony at the University of Southern California. Now a program of the Los Angeles Times Foundation, the prizes are dedicated to honoring literary luminaries, championing new voices and celebrating the highest quality of writing from authors at all stages of their careers.

 

Past recipients include a who’s who of contemporary literature, such as Margaret Atwood, Joan Didion, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Allen Ginsberg, Laura Hillenbrand and Claudia Rankine.

 

“This tremendous honor means all the more coming from the Los Angeles Times, one of our nation’s most stalwart defenders of the free press and most rigorous sources of news about our world,” Walls said. “Thoreau immersed himself in the life of Walden Pond in order to heal the radical separation that, even in his day, was dividing a world of words feeding only on other words, from what Thoreau called ‘the solid earth! the actual world!’ — the natural and social environment in which we must all be grounded, if we are to connect with each other and share a sense of the real.

 

“Thoreau may have come down to us as the apostle of solitude, but as a writer he gave himself to the act of creating community — a community that this award recognizes and affirms, from coast to coast. For that, I am profoundly grateful.”

 

This is the latest honor for Wall’s critically acclaimed biography, which has seen tremendous success.

 

The first edition sold out even before its official publication date of July 12, 2017, Thoreau’s 200th birthday. And the book — the first comprehensive biography of Thoreau since 1965 — has been praised in reviews by the The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

 

“Laura’s book is quite remarkable, and it’s been exciting to see it getting such a wonderful reception,” said John T. McGreevy, the I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. “It’s certainly gotten more attention than any book of ours in recent memory.”

 

Walls, a scholar of American transcendentalism, environmental literature and the intersection of science and literature, received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2010 to begin work on the book. She was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2015 to complete the project.