Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Author Spotlight: Terry Tempest Williams

For my Writing the Body class this week, I was randomly selected to do a presentation on the book Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams. I could not believe that I had a) never read this book before and b) never heard of this woman before. In other words, I'm in love.

Terry Tempest Williams

A fierce environmentalist and great outdoorswoman, Williams uses the power of the pen to explore themes of place, community, family, humanity and our connection to the natural world. Utne Reader magazine says that her writing "follows wilderness trails into the realm of memory and family, exploring gender and community through the prism of landscape." What else is there left to say? Except that I want to be her.

She has a strong natural history background with a Masters of Science in environmental education. Her first book was a children's story about the Inuit Alaskans and their many words for snow. Since then, she has published 14 books of everything from memoir to essay collections and poetry. A truly wild writer, she has served as a naturalist at the Utah Museum of Natural History and she now teaches in the Environmental Humanities graduate program at the University of Utah. (Teach me, Terry!)

She grew up within sight of the Great Salt Lake and she comes from a long lineage Mormons. I am envious of her connection to place and community, where knowledge and ceremonies have been passed down through the generations. Reading Refuge, it is clear that her being is innately intertwined with the natural landscape around her. 

This book made me long for that connection, to both a rich culture and a wild place. I have connections to both of these things, but they are a shadow of what they could be if I didn't live in South Florida (land of pavement) and if I had a more stable family background. On the other hand, I am grateful for the dynamic upbringing that I was granted, with access to many beautiful places and cultures.

I wonder, though, if I will ever have access to the kind of deep knowledge that she possesses about her homeland. Will I ever find a place that becomes a part of me the way the Great Salt Lake area is a part of her bones and heart?

Check out this gorgeous portrait of her by artist Rob Shetterly. The quote beneath her image says: 
"The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time."

For more info on this amazing woman, check out her website: