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‘Raven’s Witness’ Receives Top Banff Mountain Book Award

"Raven’s Witness is the perfect mix of poetic voice and scientifically infused prose"

Raven’s Witness: The Alaska Life of Richard K. Nelson has received the grand prize at the 2020 Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival.

The book awards has been taking place at the festival since 1994, when Heroic Climbs by Chris Bonington and Audrey Saukeld took top prize.

Written by Hank Lentfer and published by Mountaineers Books, Raven’s Witness is an inspirational biography of a modern-day John Muir set against the backdrop of Alaska’s wilderness, Native cultures, the writing life, and friendships rooted in nature.

Before his death in 2019, cultural anthropologist, author, and radio producer Richard K. Nelson’s work focused primarily on the indigenous cultures of Alaska and, more generally, on the relationships between people and nature.

Nelson lived for extended periods in Athabaskan and Alaskan Eskimo villages, experiences which inspired his earliest written works, including Hunters of the Northern Ice In Raven’s Witness, Lentfer tells Nelson’s story – from his midwestern childhood to his first experiences with Native culture in Alaska through his own lifelong passion for the land where he so belonged. Nelson was the author of the bestselling The Island Within and Heart and Blood.

The recipient of multiple honorary degrees and numerous literary awards, he regularly packed auditoriums when he spoke. His depth of experience allowed him to become an intermediary between worlds. Raven’s Witenss is his story.

Nandini Purandare, 2020 book competition jury member, said: “This book makes me want to ponder over our connections with nature and the meaning of spirituality for each one of us. Such is the power of its quality of writing and the subject of the book, Richard K. Nelson. There can never be enough of books like this .A lifetime spent in wilderness must be written about, and celebrated, read by young people everywhere. For this universality alone, Raven’s Witness is deserving of a Grand Prize. Congratulations to Hank!”

And jury member Helen Rolfe said, “Raven’s Witness is the perfect mix of poetic voice and scientifically infused prose. This book takes us on one man’s journey of passion and insight that stems from Alaska’s wilderness and its people. The writing style is thoughtful, and the end result is a story that seeps into the soul of the reader.”

Be sure to catch the final few days of the virtual Banff festival online here.

Banff Mountain Book Awards

1994: Chris Bonington and Audrey Saukeld (editors), Heroic Climbs
1995: Thomas Wharton, Icefields
1996: Stephen Venables, Himalaya Alpine-Style: The Most Challenging Routes on the Highest Peaks
1997: Stefano Ardito, Mont Blanc: Discovery and Conquest of the Giant of the Alps
1998: Audrey Salkeld, World Mountaineering: The World’s Great Mountains
1999: Paul Pritchard, The Totem Pole
2000: Bradford Washburn, Bradford Washburn: Mountain Photography
2001: Roger Hubank, Hazard’s Way[2]
2002: W. H. Murray, The Evidence of Things Not Seen: A Mountaineer’s Tale
2003: David Roberts, Escape from Lucania: An Epic Story of Survival
2004: Chris Duff, Southern Exposure: A Solo Sea Kayaking Journey Around New Zealand’s South Island
2005: Karsten Heuer, Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with a Caribou Herd
2006: Jeff Long, The Wall
2007: James M. Tabor, Forever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering’s Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters
2008: Sid Marty, The Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek
2009: Jerry Moffatt, Jerry Moffatt: Revelations
2010: John Long, The Stonemasters: California Rock Climbers in the Seventies
2011: Bernadette McDonald, Freedom Climbers
2012: Philip Connors, Fire Season: Field Notes From a Wilderness Lookout
2013: Tim Cope, On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads
2014: John Porter, One Day as a Tiger: Alex Macintyre and the Birth of Light and Fast Alpinism
2015: Richard Wagamese, Medicine Walk
2016: Jean McNeil, Ice Diaries: An Antarctic Memoir
2017: Jim Herrington, The Climbers
2018: Paolo Cognetti, The Eight Mountains
2019: Bryce Andrews, Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear
2020: Hank Lentfer, Raven’s Witness: The Alaska Life of Richard K. Nelson