The Conway School is pleased to welcome H. Emerson “Chip” Blake as our 2018 Commencement Speaker.
Chip Blake’s tenure as editor and environmentalist has guided his path through the fields of ecology and literature, cementing his role as a prominent voice in the environmental movement in New England and across the nation. As current editor-in-chief of Orion magazine, he has worked to elevate the publication’s narrative and expand its reach by bringing a new awareness through art and nature writing around the challenges—climate change, social justice, and environmental degradation—that the global community must address if a synergy between the human and natural world is to be realized. This critical approach has led him to re-examine underlying philosophies that continue to shape our cultural and political fabric and infrastructure planning, and inform our perception of what constitutes nature. For Chip, it’s part of the never-ending work of the activist and explorer; “It’s what propels me to come into contact with storytellers who talk about the world they come from and engage other [people’s] imaginations about what kind of world they want to live in.”
When John Muir spoke of interconnectedness existing in nature, he posited that “everything is hitched to everything else.” Likewise, Chip’s tenure with Orion is one part of a long and diverse history of involvement in art, literature, and environmentalism. His leadership in the field has deepened by connecting with others exploring novel tools for imagining the environmental movement. He studied biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder and was awarded a Masters of Science in Environmental Studies at Antioch University. A growing appreciation for the power and strength of the individual voice and reader fueled his interest in environmental literature, a course of study that led him to serve as associate and later managing editor for Orion Magazine from 1992 to 2003. In 2003 Chip turned to Milkweed Editions where he served as editor-in-chief until 2005 when he returned to Orion as editor-in-chief and as Executive Director of The Orion Society. During his twelve-year tenure at Orion the publication was cited for its literary excellence first as winner of the Utne Independent Press Award for General Excellence and also as finalist for a National Magazine Award in the Essay Category. In 2007 Orion inaugurated its own literary award, The Orion Book Award, recognizing literary works “achieving excellence in addressing the necessity for new relationships between people and nature.”
Chip’s award-winning editorial work has been recognized for its clarity, thoughtfulness, and integrity and spans several notable publications, many of which challenge the predominating historical and cultural narratives of landscape. His work accomplished this by elevating the perspectives of native storytellers and those whose experiences are framed directly by the landscape. Essays and publications he has edited have been acknowledged by The John Oakes Award in Environmental Journalism, the Pushcart Prize, the PEN Literary Award, the Minnesota Book Award, the Oregon Book Award, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Best Sellers List, Best American Essays, and the New York Times Notable Books of the Year. He has served as a panelist for the National Endowment of the Arts and led discussions on public infrastructure, native storytelling, and environmental awareness. In 2016, Chip received an Honorary Doctorate from the Environmental Sciences and Forestry Program of the State University of New York. His most recent editorial work includes Wonder and Other Survival Skills, Animals and People: A Selection of Essays from Orion Magazine, and To Eat With Grace: A Selection of Writing About Food from Orion Magazine.
Through his work and experience he has contributed to enhancing the value of communication through storytelling. In particular, his efforts have elevated the importance of engaging all participants as equal in conversations around nature and conservation. In other words, embodying traditional roles of anti versus pro-environment will no longer yield a successful dialogue about how we can live with, not against, nature. Instead, it is critical we acknowledge the varied and complex perspectives of all participants. “It’s on us to turn the chairs from facing outwards to in, so that the conversations we have about the criticality of our environmental challenges do not lead us to resort to singing to the choir.”