As chair of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, Greg Sarris, distinguished chair emeritus of Native American Studies at Sonoma State University, has an extensive body of humanities work that spans media and genres: novels, memoir, film, theater, and more. In recognition of the work he has done to protect Indigenous knowledges, lands, and peoples, Sarris received the 2023 Utah Award in the Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah’s Environmental Humanities Graduate Program.
“Greg Sarris is the most brilliant, committed, imaginative, productive, visionary scholar and leader I have been privileged to know,” says Hollis Robbins, dean of the College of Humanities. “His dedication in his scholarship and fiction to the notion of place – knowing and loving a place, understanding how it shapes you and you become responsible for it – is ever more urgent in our drive to address climate and environmental change.”
Sarris received the award Tuesday, Sept. 19 at the U Alumni House. After conferring the award, members of the Environmental Humanities Program engaged in a conversation with Sarris about the relationships between his work and environmental humanities.
“The Environmental Humanities Program is thrilled to present Dr. Sarris with the Utah Award in the Environmental Humanities because his lifetime of work dovetails with three key pillars of our program: Indigenous ecological knowledges, environmental justice, and community engagement,” said Danielle Endres, director of the Environmental Humanities Graduate Program. “Giving our students, faculty, staff and the broader community an opportunity to engage with and learn from Dr. Sarris’ phenomenal work in these areas will energize our efforts to teach the next generation of environmental leaders.”
The Utah Award in the Environmental Humanities celebrates environmental leadership and expression. The award was created to honor those who solve the planet’s environmental problems using humanities tools like creative expression, popular art forms, scholarly research or advocacy. Past recipients of the award have been Amitav Ghosh, Rebecca Solnit, Jonathan Franzen, and Aniya Butler.
“From poets to novelists to essayists to activists, the Utah Award in the Environmental Humanities provides an opportunity for the U’s Environmental Humanities program to recognize key leaders and thinkers that model how humanities inquiry can make a difference in addressing the environmental crises and injustices that face society,” said Endres.
The Environmental Humanities Graduate program, housed in the College of Humanities, offers an interdisciplinary, research-intensive, and community-engaged education that prepares students to become future leaders in creating just and equitable solutions to complex environmental and social problems.
About Greg Sarris
Sarris is Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Sarris received his doctorate in modern thought and literature from Stanford University, where he was awarded the Walter Gore Award for excellence in teaching. He received the inaugural Arts & Humanities Teaching Award at Sonoma State University in 2021. Elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2020, Sarris has published several books, including the widely anthologized collection of essays, “Keeping Slug Woman Alive: A Holistic Approach to American Indian Texts,” and “Grand Avenue,” an award-winning collection of short stories, which he adapted for an HBO miniseries of the same name and co-executive produced with Robert Redford. His last novel, “Watermelon Nights,” received rave reviews and was adapted for a play by the Santa Rosa Community College Theatre Arts Department. Sarris has written plays for Pieces of the Quilt, Intersection Theatre, and the Mark Taper Forum. His play, entitled “Mission Indians,” opened at the Intersection Theatre in San Francisco, February 2002, and received the 2003 Bay Area Theatre Critics Award for Best Script. He co-produced, advised, and was featured in a sixteen-part series on American literature for Public Television called “American Passages,” which won the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Documentary in 2003. He has written two pilot scripts for Showtime and one for HBO. Sarris has worked with the Sundance Institute, where he helped develop a summer writing lab for American Indians interested in film writing. In spring 2008, Word for Word Theatre performed two of his short stories in more than 80 schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has completed a collection of short stories as well as a collection of children’s stories and is currently finishing a new novel.