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Voice in the Wilderness

Voice in the Wilderness: Conversations with Terry Tempest Williams

Edited by Michael Austin
Willet Drawing by Lee Carlman Riddell
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Voice in the Wilderness
    Book Description:

    With her distinctive, impassioned voice and familiar felicity of language, Terry Tempest Williams talks about wilderness and wildlife, place and eroticism, art and literature, democracy and politics, family and heritage, Mormonism and religion, writing and creativity, and other subjects that engage her agile mind-in a set of interviews gathered and introduced by Michael Austin to represent the span of her career as a naturalist, author, and activist.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-537-3
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. A Life Engaged A Critical Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)
    Michael Austin

    Critics describe Terry Tempest Williams as a paradox. In the introduction to a recent book of essays devoted to her work, Katherine R. Chandler and Melissa Goldthwaite note that “tensions and oppositions abound in her work . . . As critics, we have set our sights on ferreting out how those contradictions contribute to a coherent vision.”¹ This is a daunting task: Williams is a feminist, a Mormon, a scientist, an environmentalist, an activist, and a writer of great beauty and passion. In the final interview for this volume, I asked Williams specifically about some of these contradictions. “There are...

  2. Memory is the Only Way Home A Conversational Interview with Terry Tempest Williams
    (pp. 13-20)
    David Petersen, The Bloomsbury Review and Terry Tempest Williams

    The bloomsbury review: When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?

    Terry tempest williams: My life has always been engaged with the natural world, and writing has been an outgrowth of that passion. I don’t perceive myself so much as a writer as I do a member of a community of people in the American West who are envisioning what it means to be living here at this time. I believe we are witnessing the opening of a renaissance among a community of western writers who work from the tradition of landscape as literature. I think it’s...

  3. Wild Heart The Politics of Place
    (pp. 21-33)
    Justine Toms and Terry Tempest Williams

    Justine toms: Terry, welcome.

    Terry tempest williams: Thank you, Justine, it’s wonderful to be with you.

    Jt: You have said that we are all rooted in a place, something that holds us, that we can comprehend. How did you discover that for yourself?

    Ttw: I think that a notion of rootedness, of homeland, is in each of us, and each of us defines it differently. For me it’s in Utah. Four, five, six generations of my family are deeply rooted in the Great Basin and the American West. My family is Mormon. We literally came over in a Handcart Company...

  4. Terry Tempest Williams
    (pp. 34-49)
    Derrick Jensen and Terry Tempest Williams

    Derrick jensen: What does the erotic mean to you?

    Terry tempest williams: It means “in relation.” Erotic is what those deep relations are and can be that engage the whole body—our heart, our mind, our spirit, our flesh. It is that moment of being exquisitely present.

    It does not speak well for us as a people that we even have to make the distinction between what is erotic and what is not, because an erotic connection is a life-engaged, making love to the world that I think comes very naturally.

    Eroticism, being in relation, calls the inner life into...

  5. The Politics of Place An Interview with Terry Tempest Williams
    (pp. 50-59)
    Scott London and Terry Tempest Williams

    Scott london: You’ve said that your writing is a response to questions.

    Terry tempest williams: I think about Rilke, who said that it’s the questions that move us, not the answers. As a writer, I believe that it is our task, our responsibility, to hold the mirror up to social injustices that we see and to create a prayer of beauty. The questions serve us in that capacity. Pico Iyer describes his writing as “intimate letters to a stranger,” and I think that is what the writing process is. It begins with a question, and then you follow this path...

  6. Terry Tempest Williams and Ona Siporin A Conversation
    (pp. 60-71)
    Ona Siporin and Terry Tempest Williams

    “. . . I think of a triangle, and one of the points of the triangle, probably the central point, would be Great Salt Lake, the Bear River Bird Refuge—a landscape of my childhood associated with my family, my grandmother in particular. The long-legged birds, great blue herons, avocets, stilts, ibis, shoveler, teal . . . the names evoke the presence. To the south, [the point] would be somewhere on the Colorado Plateau in the confluence of those canyons between Canyonlands and Escalante. The red rocks—[it’s like] being inside of an animal—the stillness there . . ....

  7. A Conversation with Terry Tempest Williams
    (pp. 72-92)
    Jocelyn Bartkevicius, Mary Hussmann and Terry Tempest Williams

    Jocelyn: Today in Kalona, at Mary Swander’s house, you spoke of journeys to the interior of places, how, over time, seeing first-hand the way people live, your initial idea of a place is transformed. It’s a transformation that obliterates all memory of a first impression or any preconceived expectation of that place.

    So much of your writing centers on place, the fine nuances of place. In An Unspoken Hunger, you are being guided through a place, from the perimeter to the interior, just as we were today in Kalona. In Pieces of White Shell and Refuge, you open with the...

  8. Talking to Terry Tempest Williams About Writing, the Environment, and Being a Mormon
    (pp. 93-99)
    Tom Lynch and Terry Tempest Williams

    Tl: When I heard about the theme of this year’s Border Book Festival, Our Bodies / Our Earth, I immediately thought of your work, Terry. As much as anyone’s, your writing seems to connect the human body with the more-than-human natural world. Why is this connection so important to you?

    Ttw: How can we not align our bodies with the Earth? We are made of the same stuff, so to speak: water, minerals, our blood like a river flowing inside our veins. To imagine ourselves as something outside of the Earth, foreign, removed, separate, strikes me as one of the...

  9. Testimony, Refuge, and the Sense of Place A Conversation with Terry Tempest Williams
    (pp. 100-114)
    David Thomas Sumner and Terry Tempest Williams

    Dts: Are there collections similar to Testimony?

    Ttw: First of all, David, I would like to say how heartbroken I am about the death of Neila Seshachari.¹ She was a beacon of light and wisdom for all of us who knew and loved her. I cannot think of Weber Studies without paying my respects to her memory, the time and affection she brought to this journal.

    In answer to your question, yes, there are several collections that have been inspired by Testimony. It has been very moving to see this simple form adopted by other regions in need of voices...

  10. The Transformative Power of Art An Interview with Terry Tempest Williams
    (pp. 115-130)
    Michael Toms and Terry Tempest Williams

    Mt: Terry, welcome.

    Ttw: Thank you, Michael. It’s wonderful to be with you.

    Mt: Nice to be with you too.

    Ttw: Happy birthday! May I say that?

    Mt: Oh sure, thanks. Thanks very much. A 15th-century Hieronymus Bosch painting—how did that happen?

    Ttw: It’s a good question. Brooke and I decided we needed a vacation. It was 1993, shortly after I had finished writing Refuge, which was about the rise of Great Salt Lake and the death of my mother from ovarian cancer. I think that anyone who has had the privilege of being with a loved one when...

  11. Lighting the Match An Interview with Terry Tempest Williams
    (pp. 131-136)
    Susie Caldwell and Terry Tempest Williams

    Sc: In Leap, as in all of your work, there is a sense that you are deliberately inviting paradox, as if you are trying to dissolve the opposites society imposes on us. Is this important to you?

    Ttw: Life is paradox, there is nothing to invite. There is the life of the imagination. There is play. There is Trickster energy. Contradictions. That’s one of the reasons I fell in love with Hieronymus Bosch, and why I became possessed by El jardín de las delicias. Here is an imagination so huge, so wide, so subversive, that on one hand, his triptych...

  12. Wild Mercy and Restoring the Dialogue Reflections on 9/11
    (pp. 137-145)
    Michael Toms and Terry Tempest Williams

    Ttw: I was in Washington, D.C., with a group of photographers and writers celebrating a new exhibit called, ironically, In Response to Place and sponsored by the Nature Conservancy. At that time there must have been six or seven photographers and myself sitting around a table. These were photographers who normally haven’t cast their gaze toward wild places: Sally Mann, Mary Ellen Mark, Richard Misrach, Lynn Davis—powerful visionaries through their cameras. We were talking about the enduring grace of landscape as we were signing books, when we heard, like the rest of America and the world, that the Twin...

  13. An Interview with Terry Tempest Williams
    (pp. 146-159)
    Jana Bouck Remy and Terry Tempest Williams

    Remy: How did you find the courage to write so candidly about your family’s experiences in Refuge? Was the writing process a healing experience for you? As you travel and meet other women with similar experiences, how do you reach out and comfort them?

    Williams: In writing Refuge, I wanted to honor the memory of my mother, Diane Dixon Tempest, and my grandmother, Kathryn Blackett Tempest. I knew the first requirement in creating this memoir would be to try and tell the truth as I saw it, felt it, remembered it, in respect to the integrity of their lives. They...

  14. Coffee Talk A Chat with Terry Tempest Williams
    (pp. 160-164)
    Aria Seligmann and Terry Tempest Williams

    Ttw: Shortly after my mother died, I received a call, then a letter about the Pacific yew and its properties for healing cancer. I ignored the letter because it was too close, my grandmother had just been diagnosed with cancer as well. Then I received another letter, only this time it had a branch in it of Pacific yew and I couldn’t ignore that. I came here to walk in the woods, see the Pacific rainforest along the McKenzie and it really was life-changing.

    Ew: What is the most pressing environmental concern we face?

    Ttw: The Bush Administration. There are...

  15. A Conversation with Terry Tempest Williams
    (pp. 165-167)
    Delicious Living and Terry Tempest Williams

    Delicious living: You recently returned from the Arctic. What was that experience like?

    Terry tempest williams: The Arctic was life-changing in ways I am still trying to understand. It had been a 30-year dream to visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a dream I had been holding ever since I met Mardy Murie at the Teton Science School when I was 18 years old. Mardy gave a slideshow of the trip she and her husband, Olaus, took to the Sheenjek River in 1956. It was this trip taken with friends like George Schaller that inspired the creation of the Arctic...

  16. An Interview with Terry Tempest Williams
    (pp. 168-175)
    David Kupfer and Terry Tempest Williams

    David kupfer: How do you plug into your muse?

    Terry tempest williams: I live in a very, very quiet place. I have a sequence to my creative life. In spring and fall, I am above ground and commit to community. In the summer, I’m outside. It is a time for family. And in the winter, I am underground. Home. This is when I do my work as a writer—in hibernation. I write with the bears.

    Kupfer: How has your sense of place affected your outlook?

    Williams: I come from an old Mormon family, six generations. Our ancestors came across...

  17. The Wild Mind Terry Tempest Williams and the Writing Process
    (pp. 176-186)
    Michael Austin and Terry Tempest Williams

    Ma: I want to start with something that you said earlier in an interview, and it’s something we’ve talked about as well. You said that during the seven years in which the events that took place in Refuge were occurring, you filled, I believe it was 22 journals. But you didn’t realize you were writing a book. Is that correct?

    Ttw: That’s correct.

    Ma: When did that “aha” moment come?

    Ttw: I wanted to write a book on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. I always felt this to be a landscape of orientation for me. So it was always...

  18. Appendix Interviews with Terry Tempest Williams
    (pp. 187-190)