Author Terry Tempest Williams stresses importance of upcoming election, engaged youth to environmental movement ahead of Pittsburgh appearance | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Author Terry Tempest Williams stresses importance of upcoming election, engaged youth to environmental movement ahead of Pittsburgh appearance

click to enlarge Terry Tempest Williams - PHOTO: ZOE RODRIGUEZ
Photo: Zoe Rodriguez
Terry Tempest Williams
Like any writer, Terry Tempest Williams wants her books and essays to be read. But Williams, whose latest book Erosion: Essays of Undoing (Sarah Crichton Books) is a collection of elegiac paeans about the environment, is not only writing for the present.

“I feel like I’m writing to the future, and that matters to me,” Williams says, “that those who will come after us will know there are many, many people who saw what was coming, and many, many more people who tried to do something about it. I appreciate those writers who did that for us.”

Williams, the author of books including Finding Beauty in a Broken World (2009) and When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice (2013) is considered one of the most accomplished and revered environmental writers working today. Currently a writer-in-residence at the Harvard Divinity School, Williams will speak Mon., Oct. 12 at a virtual event hosted by Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Ten Evening series.

Below are excerpts from a conversation with Williams and Pittsburgh City Paper ahead of the appearance.


CP: You tie so many things happening now — the Black Lives Movement, the pandemic, the upcoming presidential and the fires in California — to the idea of not being able to breathe. Where do you go to breathe and to feel, however temporary, better about the world and future?

TTW: “Right here in Castle Valley, Utah. It’s a little desert hamlet of maybe 300 people. … This is where I find my solace, this is where my soul is restored and rejuvenated. To watch a spring unfold in the desert is to believe in the power of renewal. To, even in drought, watch the power of a cloudburst and to see the swelling of sage and to smell that petrichor, the smell before rain falls. It’s that continual sense of awe that I never get tired of. The colors are always changing, the shadows are always deepening. Last night we had a sunset the color of tangerines against a purple backdrop.”

CP: How critical is the upcoming election in terms of preserving national parks and lands, and addressing climate change? Is it the most important election of your lifetime?

TTW: It is for me, and I think it is for all of us, and I think for every reason. For climate change, for environmental regulation, for racial justice and the curbing of injustices, for leadership, for world standing, for our children and for our health. I think this pandemic is not going to mysteriously and magically disappear. Our president now has the pandemic, and again we’re seeing the antics he’s engaged in, even threatening his own Secret Service men for a pandemic parade. We’re all horrified. I come from a family of lifelong and generational Republicans, and they’re dismayed at his theatrics, and they know lives are at stake.”


TTW on the landscape of Pittsburgh: “In Pittsburgh you’re lucky to have this confluence of two great American rivers. And you also, in Pittsburgh, show us how cities continue to evolve. I love Laurie Graham’s book Singing in the City about Pittsburgh. To me, it’s a great ode to what it means to live in place. She was a great editor of mine — she was my first editor, and I owe everything to her. She took a chance with me, she believed in my voice when I didn’t have one.

TTW on the future of the environmental movement among young people: “These students are fearless in asking the hard questions and knowing what’s on the line. And it’s their capacity to have these difficult conversations that say to me this is a generation that’s not in denial. This is the generation that will do the hard work personally, as well as collectively. And I feel that our work — I’m 65 years old — is to engage in this intergenerational conversation that is also important. I know what my elders gave to me, which was support and opening doors and listening. So, I feel a deep, deep respect to the young people coming forward, and I feel that is my most important work, as a human being and as a writer.”
Tickets for Terry Tempest Williams’ virtual conversation on Mon., Oct. 12 are $15. (Student tickets available for $10.) For more information, visit pittsburghlectures.org

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