Terry Tempest Williams Archive

November 23, 2011

The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library has acquired the papers of American writer, poet, naturalist, and activist Terry Tempest Williams.

The author of more than a dozen books including The Secret Language of Snow (1984), Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (1991), Desert Quartet: An Erotic Landscape (1995), Leap (2000), and Finding Beauty in a Broken World (2008), Williams calls attention to the relationship between our natural environment and social justice. A fierce advocate for freedom of speech, she has testified before Congress on women’s health, committed acts of civil disobedience to protest nuclear testing in Nevada, and served on the boards of The Wilderness Society, the Nature Conservancy’s Utah Chapter, the advisory board of the National Parks and Conservation Association, and on the President’s Council for Sustainable Development. She has collaborated with artists and photographers such as Mary Franks, Emmet Gowin, Richard Misrach, Meridel Rubenstein, and Debra Bloomfield. Her essays on ecological and social issues have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Orion, and The Progressive. In 2006, The Wilderness Society presented William’s with its Robert Marshall Award, the highest honor the society bestows.

Ms. Williams, whose ancestors were among the earliest Mormon pioneers to settle the valley of the Great Salt Lake, grew up in Utah. She graduated from the University of Utah in 1978 with a degree in English and a minor in biology. She taught on the Navajo reservation at Montezuma Creek, a settlement of fewer than 500 in the southeast corner of Utah, and earned a master’s degree in Environmental Education in 1984. From 1986 through 1996 she worked as curator of education and naturalist in residence at the Utah Museum of Natural History. Ms. Williams, who was recently a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College, is currently the Annie Clark Tanner Fellow in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah.

“For more than a quarter of a century,” observes George Miles, William Robertson Coe Curator of the Yale Collection of Western Americana, “Terry Tempest Williams has written lyrically about life and the landscape of her Utah home. She has joined with artists, writers, and scientists to increase our appreciation of the wonder and fragility of the world we inhabit and to make us more aware of how the damage we cause that world rebounds to harm us individually and to diminish our society. Her diaries, journals and drafts reveal the extraordinary originality of her creative process while her correspondence with colleagues from around the county illuminates the concerns and efforts of a generation of American environmental activists.”

Ms. Williams’ papers, which comprise 204 boxes, arrived in New Haven this summer. The library’s archivists are organizing the papers and preparing a guide to them, after which they will be opened for consultation.
Questions about the Williams’ papers may be directed to George Miles, Curator of Western Americana, at George.Miles@yale.edu or to Nancy Kuhl, Curator of American Literature for Poetry, at Nancy.Kuhl@yale.edu.

Photo: Terry Tempest Williams