Biologist, alumnus receives 2016 Harper Lee Award

E.O. Wilson
E.O. Wilson

Noted biologist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson has been selected to receive the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year for 2016. The award is made to a living, nationally recognized Alabama writer who has made a significant, lifelong contribution to Alabama letters. Wilson will receive the honor during the Awards Dinner at the Alabama Writers Symposium in Monroeville, Alabama, on March 31, 2016.

“Although—perhaps because—I’m primarily a scientist, I’m doubly honored to receive the Harper Lee Award, in recognition of the literary side of my life,” said Wilson. “Actually, triply honored to have it come from the state and region I love and have tried to honor in works of both fiction and nonfiction.”

The author of thirty-one books, Wilson is generally recognized as one of the several leading biologists in the world. He is acknowledged as the creator of two scientific disciplines (island biogeography and sociobiology), three unifying concepts for science and the humanities jointly (biophilia, biodiversity studies, and consilience), and one major technological advance in the study of global biodiversity (the Encyclopedia of Life). Among more than one hundred awards he has received worldwide are the U. S. National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize (equivalent of the Nobel, for ecology) of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the International Prize of Biology of Japan; and in letters, two Pulitzer Prizes in non-fiction, the Nonino and Serono Prizes of Italy, and the COSMOS Prize of Japan. He is currently Honorary Curator in Entomology and University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University. His most recent book is The Meaning of Human Existence (Liveright Publishing Company, 2014).

“In his life’s work, Edward O. Wilson has written about the social activities of insects, primarily the ant, and he extrapolates from the natural world to explain the human,” said Jeanie Thompson, Alabama Writers’ Forum Executive Director. “Perceiving the world with a poet’s sensibility, he gives us a deepened awareness of our fellow humans. I go to his works, just as I go to all creative writers’ works, to understand better why the world operates the way it does—and to gain solace. Wilson’s writing affords us a window into the unfathomable.”

Wilson received his BS degree from the University of Alabama in 1949, and followed that with an MS the next year. He often returns to his alma mater to spend time with students and colleagues. Dean Robert Olin of UA’s College of Arts and Science acknowledged Wilson’s commitment to his school and his home state.

“Ed Wilson is a dedicated alumnus of The University of Alabama,” said Olin. “He has returned countless times to lecture and conduct field work with students.  He has established at UA the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Fellowships, which support graduate students who conduct field research in Alabama’s woods.  And he has also chosen his alma mater to be the perpetual home of his more than 150 international medals and prizes.  We are delighted to know that the Harper Lee Award, which so appropriately recognizes Ed Wilson’s vast work and his devotion and understanding of Alabama, will be included in that prized collection.”

Find the complete release at