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Powell's Q&A

Terry Tempest Williams

Describe your latest project.
Finding Beauty in a Broken World is a meditation on mosaics as both an art form and a form of integration. From the bejeweled ceilings of Ravenna, Italy, to the ecological mosaic of Utah Prairie Dogs in Bryce Canyon National Park to the literal making of mosaics out of the rubble of war for a genocide memorial in Rwanda, this is an exploration on fragmentation and wholeness. Beauty is not optional. Art is not peripheral, but a strategy for survival. Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.

  1. Finding Beauty in a Broken World
    $11.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist

    Finding Beauty in a Broken World

    Terry Tempest Williams
    "[A] skillful, nuanced mosaic...[that] argues for respect for life in all its myriad forms." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

    "[A] beautiful mosaic of loss and renewal that affirms, with striking lucidity, the need for reverence for all of life." Booklist (starred review)

  2. Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place
    $5.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist
    "Brilliantly conceived...one of the most significant environmental essays of our time." The Kansas City Star

    "Moving and loving...both a natural history of an ecological phenomenon [and] a Mormon family saga....A heroic book." The Washington Post Book World

  3. An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field
    $6.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist
    "Intensely experienced, smartly delivered vignettes....With an observant eye and a breathtaking frame of reference, Williams fluently explores the meeting ground of place, spirit, and emotion." Kirkus Reviews
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
John Berger, Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.

A small brass bowl called a Fear Cup. Engraved with filigree geometric patterns and some verses from the Koran arranged in the form of a flower. Fill it with water and leave it outside under the stars for a night. Then drink the water while praying that it will alleviate the pain and cure you. —John Berger, Hold Everything Dear

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
Golden trout, freshly caught, grilled outdoors in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming.

Why do you write?
I write to make peace with my questions. I write to create community. I write because I believe in words. I write because I do not believe in words.

Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
When I was in Rwanda, I met a young man named Louis Gakumba. He was our translator, 22 years old. He was hungry to read and learn about America. I gave him a copy of my book, The Open Space of Democracy. It was on Thursday. On Friday, he came to me, excited and disturbed. He had the book hidden under his arm, "This is a dangerous book. In Rwanda, you would be killed for writing this book." And so ensued our conversation on freedom of speech in America.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
Kiki Smith — "Repetition is spiritual." I love her series of prints called White Mammals. They are a kin to fingerprints, only they are the prints of prepared skins of ground squirrels and other rodents, dead yet alive.

Damien Hirst — Because he forces us to not only see, but feel on a visceral level, what makes us uncomfortable: a shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde; a cow sliced and sectioned.

Nek Chand — a mosaicist from Chandighar, India, who recreated the community he lost during the Partition through mosaics. Outsider art in the city designed as grid by Le Corbusier.

Walter Ford — a printmaker and watercolorist who brings echoes of Hieronymus Bosch to the 21st century and creates wildlife tableaus full of beauty irony, politics and pathos.

Van Gogh — for his vibrant brushstrokes, soul-stirring colors, and mundane beauty from a bedroom to a field of iris growing outside a sanitarium. Crows flying over wheatfields.

Courbet — The Origin of the World

O'Keeffe — Bones as windows held up to the desert sky

Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?
How about Utah prairie dogs?

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

These are books that were important to me in writing Finding Beauty in a Broken World:

On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry

Glossario Tecnico-Storico del Mosaico by Manuela Farneti

Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology by Gregory Bateson

Animals and Why They Matter by Mary Midgley

Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee

The Black-Tailed Prairie Dog: Social Life of a Burrowing Mammal by John L. Hoogland

A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Romeo Dallaire

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch

÷ ÷ ÷

Terry Tempest Williams is the Annie Clark Tanner Scholar in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah. Her previous books include Leap; Refuge; and An Unspoken Hunger. Her writing appears frequently in journals and newspapers worldwide. She is the recipient of Lannan and Guggenheim fellowships in creative nonfiction. She divides her time between Castle Valley, Utah, and Wilson, Wyoming.


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