The taking of risks is, ultimately, the wild heart of Terry Tempest Williams’ work. “What are we afraid of that makes us accept so much that is intolerable?” she asks. “We’re afraid of intimacy, of wildness, of love; afraid of the very things we desire, because if we acknowledged them we would have to acknowledge the possibility of losing them.
Williams lives with her husband, Brook, in Castle Valley, Utah, near the Colorado River.
Williams has also received many awards including the Children's Science Book Award from the New York Academy of Sciences; she was named one of the "Utne 100 Visionaries" by the Utne Reader; she is a Rachel Carson Honor Roll inductee. Williams received a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and the "Spirit of the West" award from Mountain-Plains Booksellers Association
She holds a B.A. in English and an M.A. in environmental education from the University of Utah and has worked as a teacher at Navajo Reservation in Montezuma Creek, Utah, and as naturalist in residence at the Utah Museum of Natural History.
“It’s frightening to embrace change and paradox. But living with paradox means living with a wild heart, and that means finding a certain comfort in the contradictory nature of things. When I'm out in the natural world,” she says, “I can be fierce and compassionate at once, loving the grizzly and the elk and watching the grizzly take the elk calf down.”
Williams often takes a specifically female point of view. She argues persuasively for a female view of her relationship with nature. Furthermore, she addresses women’s health as it’s affected by nuclear power and other assaults on the health of the biosphere.
Like Rachel Carson, she opposes destruction of the environment for its effects on human health. Like Wendell Berry, she is tied to the land she inhabits and evokes a love born of generations of land stewardship. Like Aldo Leopold, she teaches that humans are part of the land community and can learn from the land and its ways. And like Edward Abbey, she sings the beauty of the desert.
As an environmental activist, she’s been a leader in the ongoing struggle to save the wild from development and to protect the once-wild from over-exploitation.
Of all the voices of the wilderness, none speaks with deeper passion or greater effect than Terry Tempest Williams. She evokes an austere vision of the beauty of the wild lands of the American West and evokes in the reader a passionate attachment to that beauty.
Williams’ other books include Red: Patience and Passion in the Desert, 2001, a collection of essays, An Unspoken Hunger (Pantheon, 1994); Desert Quartet: An Erotic Landscape (Pantheon, 1995); Coyote's Canyon (Gibbs M. Smith, 1989); and Pieces of White Shell: A Journey to Navajoland (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1984). She is also the author of two children's books: The Secret Language of Snow (Sierra Club/Pantheon, 1984); and Between Cattails (Little Brown, 1985).
Williams is perhaps best known for her book Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Pantheon, 1991), in which she chronicles the epic rise of Great Salt Lake and the flooding of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in 1983, alongside her mother's diagnosis with ovarian cancer, believed to be caused by radioactive fallout from the nuclear tests in the Nevada desert in the 1950s and 60s.
"I write through my biases of gender, geography, and culture. I am a woman whose ideas have been shaped by the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau, these ideas are then filtered through the prism of my culture and my culture is Mormon. These tenets of family and community which I see at the heart of that culture are then articulated through story."
Terry Tempest Williams grew up within sight of the Great Salt Lake in Salt Lake City, Utah. A fifth-generation Mormon, her ancestors followed Brigham Young, "the American Moses," to the Promised Land for spiritual sovereignty in 1847, fleeing the prosecutions they met in Navhoo, Illinois, after the murder of their prophet, Joseph Smith.