Terry Tempest Williams

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

Terry Tempest Williams (born September 8, 1955), is an American author, conservationist and activist. Williams’ writing is rooted in the American West and has been significantly influenced by the arid landscape of her native Utah and its Mormon culture. Her work ranges from issues of ecology and wilderness preservation, to women's health, to exploring our relationship to culture and nature.

She has testified before Congress on women’s health, committed acts of civil disobedience in the years 1987 - 1992 in protest against nuclear testing in the Nevada Desert, and again, in March, 2003 in Washington, D.C., with Code Pink, against the Iraq War. She has been a guest at the White House, has camped in the remote regions of the Utah and Alaska wildernesses and worked as "a barefoot artist" in Rwanda.

Williams is the author of Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place; An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field; Desert Quartet; Leap; Red: Patience and Passion in the Desert; and The Open Space of Democracy. Her book Finding Beauty in a Broken World was published in 2008 by Pantheon Books.

In 2006, Williams received the Robert Marshall Award from The Wilderness Society, their highest honor given to an American citizen. She also received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Western American Literature Association and the Wallace Stegner Award given by The Center for the American West. She is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in creative nonfiction. Williams was featured in Ken Burns' PBS series The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009) and in Stephen Ives's PBS documentary series The West, which was produced by Burns. In 2011, Williams received the 18th International Peace Award given by the Community of Christ.[1]

Williams is currently the Annie Clark Tanner Scholar in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah and a columnist for the magazine The Progressive. She has been a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College where she continues to teach. She divides her time between Wilson, Wyoming and Castle Valley, Utah, where her husband Brooke is field coordinator for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Early life, education, and work

Terry Tempest Williams was born in Corona, California, to Diane Dixon Tempest and John Henry Tempest, III.[2] Her father was serving in the United States Air Force in Riverside, California, for two years. She grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, within sight of Great Salt Lake.

Atomic testing at the Nevada Test Site (outside Las Vegas) between 1951 and 1962 exposed Williams’ family to radiation like many Utahns, which Williams believes is the reason so many members of her family have been affected by cancer. By 1994, nine members of the Tempest family had had mastectomies, and seven had died of cancer.[3] Some of the family members affected by cancer included Williams’ own mother, grandmother and brother.

In 1978, Williams graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in English and a minor in biology, followed by a Master of Science degree in environmental education in 1984. Williams met her husband Brooke Williams in 1974 while working part-time at Sam Weller's Bookstore, a Salt Lake City bookstore, where he was a customer. The two married six months after their first meeting and began their life together working at the Teton Science School in Grand Teton National Park. After graduating from college, Williams worked as a teacher in Montezuma Creek, Utah, on the Navajo Reservation. She worked at the Utah Museum of Natural History from 1986–96, first as curator of education and later as naturalist-in-residence.

Writing career

Williams published her first book, The Secret Language of Snow in 1984. A children’s book written with Ted Major, her mentor at the Teton Science School, it received a National Science Foundation Book Award. Over the next few years, she published three other books: Pieces of White Shell: A Journey to Navajo Land (1984, illustrated by Clifford Brycelea, a Navajo artist), Between Cattails (1985, illustrated by Peter Parnall), and Coyote’s Canyon, (1989, with photographs by John Telford).[4]

In 1991, Williams' memoir, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place was published by Pantheon Books. The book interweaves memoir and natural history, explores her complicated relationship to Mormonism, and recounts her mother's diagnosis with ovarian cancer along with the concurrent flooding of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, a place special to Williams since childhood. The book's widely anthologized epilogue, The Clan of One-Breasted Women, explores whether the high incidence of cancer in her family might be due to their status as downwinders during the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission's above-ground nuclear testing in the 1950s and 60s. Refuge received the 1991 Evans Biography Award from the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies at Utah State University.[5] and the Mountain-Plains Booksellers Creative Nonfiction Book Award in 1992.

In 1995, when the United States Congress was debating issues related to the Utah wilderness, Williams and writer Stephen Trimble edited the collection, Testimony: Writers Speak On Behalf of Utah Wilderness, an effort by twenty American writers to sway public policy. A copy of the book was given to every member of Congress.[6] On September 18, 1996, President Bill Clinton at the dedication of the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, held up this book and said, "This made a difference."[6]

Williams’ writing on ecological and social issues has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Orion magazine, among others. She has been published in numerous environmental, feminist, political, and literary anthologies. She has also collaborated in the creation of fine art books with photographers Emmet Gowin, Richard Misrach, Debra Bloomfield, Meridel Rubenstein, Rosalie Winard, and Edward Riddell.


  • The Secret Language of Snow (for children; co-authored with Ted Major, illustrations by Jennifer Dewey), Sierra Club/Pantheon Books, 1984.
  • Pieces of White Shell: A Journey to Navajoland (illustrations by Clifford Brycelea), Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1984.
  • Coyote's Canyon (photographs by John Telford), Peregrine Smith, Layton, Utah, 1989.
  • Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, Pantheon Books, New York, 1991, ISBN 0-679-74024-4.
  • Leap, Pantheon Books, New York, 2000.
  • Finding Beauty In A Broken World, Pantheon Books, New York, 2008.
  • When Women Were Birds, Sarah Crichton Books, New York, 2012.
Poetry collections
  • Between Cattails (for children), Little, Brown, Boston, 1985.
  • Earthly Messengers, Western Slope Press, Provo, Utah, 1989.
  • The Illuminated Desert (for children; with art by Chloe Hedden, calligraphy by Chris Montague), Canyonlands Natural History Association, 2008.
Essay collections
  • An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field, Pantheon Books, New York, 1994.
  • Desert Quartet: An Erotic Landscape, (with art by Mary Frank), Pantheon Books, New York, 1995.
  • Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert, Pantheon Books, New York, 2001.
  • The Open Space of Democracy, Orion Society Books, Great Barrington, Mass, 2004. Reissued by Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2010.
As editor
  • Great and Peculiar Beauty: A Utah Centennial Reader (edited with Thomas J. Lyon), Peregrine Smith, Layton, Utah 1995.
  • Testimony: Writers in Defense of the Wilderness (compiled with Stephen Trimble), Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis, 1996.
  • New Genesis: A Mormon Reader on Land and Community (edited with William B. Smart, and Gibbs M. Smith), Peregrine Smith, Layton, Utah 1998

Works about Williams

  • Chandler, Katharine R. and Melissa A. Goldthwaite. (2003) Surveying the Literary Landscapes of Terry Tempest Williams: New Critical Essays. ISBN 978-0-87480-770-7.


Honors and awards

  • National Wildlife Federation's Conservation Award for Special Achievement, 1993
  • Utah Governor's Award in the Humanities, 1995
  • Inducted into the Rachel Carson Honor Roll, 1996
  • One of the "Utne Reader's" "Utne 100 Visionaries"
  • The Mormon Arts & Letters Association Lifetime Achievement Award, 1997
  • Honorary Degree, College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine, 1999
  • Honorary Degree, Chatham College, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 2000
  • Honorary Doctor of Humanities, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, 2002
  • Honorary Doctor of Humanities, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2003
  • Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, 2004
  • Wallace Stegner Award for the Center for the American West, 2005
  • Distinguished Achievement Award from the Western American Literature Association, 2006
  • Robert Marshall Award from The Wilderness Society, 2006
  • Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Lesley University, Cambridge, Mass, 2008
  • John Wesley Powell Award, The Grand Canyon Trust, 2008
  • Spirit of the Arctic Award, Alaska Wilderness League, 2008
  • Honorary Doctor of Humanities, Wooster College, Wooster, Ohio, 2010
  • Sierra Club John Muir Award, 2014
  • International Peace Award, Community of Christ Church, 2011
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow
  • Lannan Literary Fellowship in Creative Nonfiction
  • Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Community Literary Grant
  • Hemingway Foundation Literary Grant

Book awards

  • New York Academy of Sciences, Children's Science Book Award, 1984, The Secret Language of Snow
  • Southwest Book Award, 1985, Pieces of White Shell
  • Mormon Arts & Letters Association, Personal Essay Award, 1991, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place
  • Evans Biography Award, Mountain West Center for Regional Studies, Utah State University, 1991, Refuge
  • Mountain-Plains Booksellers, Creative Nonfiction Award, 1992, Refuge
  • Mormon Arts & Letters Association, Personal Essay Award, 1995 Desert Quartet
  • Utah Book Award, Nonfiction, 2000, Leap
  • Mountain-Plains Booksellers, Children’s Picture Book Award, 2009, The Illuminated Desert


  1. http://www.cofchrist.org/peacecolloquy/
  2. Tredinnick, Mark. The land's wild music: encounters with Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Terry Tempest Williams, & James Galvin. Trinity University Press, 2005.
  3. Mother Jones Magazine, Mar-Apr 1994.
  4. Books
  5. "Previous Winners - Evans Biography Award" (PDF). Mountain West Center for Regional Studies at Utah State University. Retrieved 2008-10-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Summer, David Thomas. Testimony, Refuge, and the Sense of Place—A Conversation with Terry Tempest Williams


  • Clark, Monette Tangren (Literary Assistant to Terry Tempest Williams) Moab Poets & Writers
  • Anderson, Lorraine, John P. O'Grady, and Scott Slovic, eds. Literature and the Environment. New York: Longman, 1999.
  • Kupfer, David. "Terry Tempest Williams Interview". The Progressive Online. Retrieved 2009-03-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "Biography". Retrieved 2009-03-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "Bibliography". 2008-09-23. Retrieved 2009-04-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ives, Susan. "A Conversation with Terry Tempest Williams". Land & People. Retrieved 2009-03-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "Williams, Terry Tempest". World Authors 1990-1995. Biography Reference Bank. H. W. Wilson. 1999. Retrieved 2009-04-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links