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Leila
Award-Winning Nonfiction Author
Guggenheim Fellow
Travels from: Woodstock, CT

“Lyrically written, meticulously observed, and exhaustively researched, BEAVERLAND is going to break your heart—and then heal it with compassion, beauty, and wonder.”—Sy Montgomery, New York Times bestselling author of The Soul of an Octopus

Leila Philip’s writing has been called “inspiring” by The New York Times, “full of charm and wonder” by The Wall Street Journal, and “mesmerizing” by Publishers Weekly. In her deeply researched, intrepidly reported, and lyrically written works of nonfiction she chronicles diverse, personal journeys that zoom out beyond the periphery to capture the forces and events that shape us all.

In A Family Place: A Hudson Valley Farm, Three Centuries, Five Wars, One Family she weaves the history of the Hudson Valley farm where she spent her childhood in a “subtly shaded story of the importance of understanding the ghosts and heroes that reside in every ancestral home.” (The New York Times). In a historical quest both surprising and engaging, she addresses the tensions between memory and recorded fact and invites us to take a new look at our own sense of the past, home, and family.

In The Road through Miyama, Philip, already fluent in Japanese and a potter, traveled to southernmost Japan to apprentice a master potter. As she tells us of her progress she gives us an insightful guide to an exacting craft, a deeply personal portrait of the village, and a beautifully perceptive look at the cultural roots of modern Japan. “In this enchanting book, Philip recounts her trip with sensitivity and clarity. The reader will learn much about potting, but also about Japanese history, social mores, rural life, modern youth, religion and much else.” (Library Journal).

Called “a triumph of popular nature writing” (Publishers Weekly), Philip’s newest book, Beaverland, looks far beyond the beaver pond as she asks “What is it about interspecies connection that enables us to feel that our world has suddenly expanded to something so much larger than what we could know on our own?” In this masterful work of narrative science writing she highlights, through history and contemporary storytelling, how this weird rodent with 4 orange teeth, humanoid hands, poor eyesight, and a paddle for a tail plays an outsized role in American history and its future, especially when it comes to ongoing economic and environmental contributions.

A Guggenheim Fellow, Philip has also been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She works across genres, publishing poetry, essays and theatrical script and is currently at work on a documentary film. She was a popular contributing columnist at the Boston Globe and teaches in the Environmental Studies Program at the College of the Holy Cross where she is a professor in the English Department. Leila currently lives in Woodstock, Connecticut where, surrounded by trees, she has learned to love the beauty of living in a woodland.

Leila's Featured Titles

Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America

Twelve |
Nonfiction

An intimate and revelatory dive into the world of the beaver—the wonderfully weird rodent that has surprisingly shaped American history and may save its ecological future.

From award-winning writer Leila Philip, BEAVERLAND is a masterful work of narrative science writing, a book that highlights, though history and contemporary storytelling, how this weird rodent plays an oversized role in American history and its future. She follows fur trappers who lead her through waist high water, fur traders and fur auctioneers, as well as wildlife managers, PETA activists, Native American environmental vigilantes, scientists, engineers, and the colorful group of activists known as beaver believers.

Beginning with the early trans-Atlantic trade in North America, Leila Philip traces the beaver’s profound influence on our nation’s early economy and feverish western expansion, its first corporations and multi-millionaires. In her pursuit of this weird and wonderful animal, she introduces us to people whose lives are devoted to the beaver, including a Harvard scientist from the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, who uses drones to create 3-dimensional images of beaver dams; and an environmental restoration consultant in the Chesapeake whose nickname is the “beaver whisperer”.

What emerges is a poignant personal narrative, a startling portrait of the secretive world of the contemporary fur trade, and an engrossing ecological and historical investigation of these heroic animals who, once trapped to the point of extinction, have returned to the landscape as one of the greatest conservation stories of the 20th century. Beautifully written and impeccably researched, BEAVERLAND reveals the profound ways in which one odd creature and the trade surrounding it has shaped history, culture, and our environment.

Water Rising

New Rivers Press |
Poetry

In 2012, Leila Philip and Garth Evans set out to challenge themselves as artists. Philip, an award-winning memoirist, wrote poems. Evans, an internationally renowned sculptor, made watercolors. Water Rising tells the story of this remarkable collaboration. Philip’s realist poems—about nature, beauty, love, and loss, set amongst Evans’ abstract, deeply hued, layered watercolors, create a book which is more than just a gorgeous read and a visual feast. What emerges in this book is a stunning and original collaboration, which, as Worcester Art Museum Director, Matthias Waschek, points out in his introduction, extends how we think about the relationship between painting and poetry. The title poem, “Water Rising,” was a finalist for the 2015 Pushcart Prize in literature.

The mission of Water Rising is to generate funds to support environmental stewardship. At its core, Water Rising celebrates our human need to connect to place.

A Family Place: A Hudson Valley Farm, Three Centuries, Five Wars, One Family

Excelsior Editions |
Nonfiction

After her father’s death in 1992, Leila Philip and her family faced the imminent loss of the Hudson River Valley Farm that had been home to the Philip and Van Ness families since 1732. Taking an unpaid leave from her job, Leila set out with her mother to save their farm and the family home, a sprawling Federal period mansion called Talavera. After fifteen generations of Philip and Van Ness men, it would be up to these two determined women to hold off the twin threats of bankruptcy and urban sprawl.

Returning to Talavera led Leila on an unexpected journey into the past even as she and her mother sought to chart a future for their commercial fruit orchard. Stumbling upon family letters, belongings, and secrets, Leila discovered a past that was inextricably woven into three centuries of U.S. history. In A Family Place, Leila Philip brings to life the people and events that shaped her family and Talavera. Across the generations we meet colonial Dutch farmers, Revolutionary Generals, Civil War heroes, freed slaves, ambassadors, and a cast of wonderfully renegade aunts who fled Talavera in search of adventure around the world. Set against this background of land and people are the day-to-day elements of farm life at Talevera, from horticulture and beekeeping to art history and Romantic-era landscape gardening. It is in this quest to uncover and understand life at Talavera that Leila inevitably finds a place for herself, as she and her family and their farm embark on a new century in the Hudson Valley.

Hidden Dialogue: A Discussion Between Women in Japan and the United States

New York Japan Society |
Non-Fiction

Women in Japan and the United States have always been in a dialogue, albeit silent one. Here in the United States, cultural stereotypes of Japanese women- Madame Butterfly or the alluring geisha- have been held up as models of female submissiveness. As Japan’s role as economic competitor has grown, this stereotype has transformed into that of the household drudge, a reminder and warning to American women that they should stop complaining and appreciate how much beter off they are. In Japan, the stereotype of the American woman has served and equally ambivalent role. In the late ’60s and ’70s, Japanese mass media quickly caricatured the Wester feminist as a sex-deprived siren. And the contemporary American career woman, while attractive and bold, is routinely depicted as lonely and miserable, a ruthless competitor of men and destroyer of the family.

Recently, this dialogue of stereotypes became a dialogue of voices. At the Japan Society’s “Women’s Agenda for the ’90s” conference held in Tarrytown, New York in June 1992, professional women from Japan and the United States had an opportunity to discuss what was on their minds. For almost two days, businesswomen and lawyers, policymakers and politicians, journalists and research analysts discussed their concerns as women leaders. They exchanged information on the current situation for women in both countries and compared strategies for change. Most important, they began to talk, to exchange stories and anecdotes and, through this process, to discover how fragile the differences between them really are.

The Road Through Miyama

Random House |
Memoir

In 1983 Leila Philip made her way to southernmost Japan in search of a potter who would take on a foreign apprentice. In Miyama–a village settled almost four centuries ago by seventy Korean potters–she was accepted as an apprentice into the workshop and home of master potter Kazy Nagayoshi and his wife, Reiko.

As she tells us of her progress in the poetry workshop, Philip gives us an insightful guide to an exacting craft, a deeply personal portrait of the village, and a beautifully perceptive look at the cultural roots of modern Japan. With good humor and vivid detail, she tells of days spent planting and harvesting rice in the paddies. And with grace and respect, she introduces us to the people of Miyama–to the feisty old farming woman, to the artisans from neighboring studios, and, most especially, to Nagayoshi and Reiko.

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Why beavers are a Climate Action Plan ready to put to use

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How beavers can help us be better humans

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How to tell a good story

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Finding, researching, reporting, and writing a meaningful story to inspire and educate

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Finding wonder in the natural world is the first step in saving our planet

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Lessons from the beaver

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Lessons from the animal world

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Looking beyond the obvious

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What we can learn from our ancestors

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Finding beauty in the imperfect

Leila’s Events

Leila’s Journalism & Other Writing

Honors, Awards & Recognition

2020 Furthermore Publication Award, J.M, Kaplan Fund
2020 Society of Environmental Journalists Story Grant Award
2019 Michigan Humanities Council Fellowship
2017 American Antiquarian Society Artist & Writers Baron Fellowship
2015 Ct Arts /NEA Initiative Grant funded by the National Endowment for the Arts
2014 Pushcart Prize in Literature Nomination for Literary Nonfiction fall 2014
2014 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend
2007 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship Literary Nonfiction
2006 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend Nominee
2002 Publication Award the Victorian Society of America, A Family Place
2002 Book Award, Documentation of American Life A Family Place
2000 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in American Studies
1999 American Association of University Women American Fellowship
1999 Furthermore, the Publication Program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund
1998 New York State Library Research Fellowship
1997 Picker Research Fellowship Colgate University
1996 Rona Jaffe Writer's Award Finalist
1996 Garrison Fellowship for distinguished research: Colgate University
1994 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature
1993 Money for Women/ Deming Memorial Fund award for nonfiction
1992 Radcliffe Bunting Fellow in Creative Writing Radcliffe, Cambridge
1991 James Thurber Writer-in-Residence The Ohio State University, Columbus
1990 PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation for Nonfiction, The Road Through Miyama

Media Kit

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