Author to conduct Haskell residency

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Haskell Indian Nations University professor Denise Low took her English class on a birdwatching trip last week at the Baker Wetlands to teach them about creative writing.

Maybe it sounds like a long shot. But really, it was the perfect destination to prepare them for a visit this week by naturalist, environmental activist and acclaimed author Terry Tempest Williams.

In her 1991 book "Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place," Williams uses the fluctuation in wild bird populations at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge during 1980s flooding at the Great Salt Lake as a metaphor to explore the loss of her mother and grandmother to cancer.

Many of the birds in the book also can be found in southern Lawrence, Low said.

"In anticipation of her visit, I have pointed out the birds that are in the Haskell-Baker Wetlands, and we're going to do some firsthand observation of some of the birds that she references in the book. This is the season that these birds come through. There are 200 different species that fly over or live in the Wetlands," Low said. "So her work, even though she is based in Utah, is certainly relevant to this geography."

Williams will speak at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Prairie Park Nature Center, 2730 Harper Ave., to open a week-long residency at Haskell. Her stay is part of "American Voices," a program sponsored by the National Book Foundation to promote reading and writing as a means of preserving American Indian culture.

This is the first time the foundation and Haskell have partnered on an author residency. The university put its name on a waiting list five years ago and is just now getting its turn.

Low, a poet, essayist, critic and chairwoman of the school's English department, is excited about Williams' visit.

What: Readings and talks by environmental activist and acclaimed author Terry Tempest Williams.When: 7:30 p.m. Monday and 2 p.m. WednesdayWhere: Prairie Park Nature Center, 2730 Harper Ave., and the Haskell Indian Nations University libraryCost: Free and open to the public

"I think it's important for any students of creative writing to have as much exposure to quality professional writers as possible. I know it has helped me in my own writing," she said.

Williams will conduct in-depth writing workshops with students and faculty and will give another public talk at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Haskell library. Her public appearances are free.

The Utne Reader named Williams one of its "Utne 100 Visionaries" and described her as "a person who could change your life." She is best known for "Refuge." Her other books include "Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert," "Leap," "Coyote's Canyon," "Pieces of White Shell: A Journey into Navajoland" and a collection of essays titled "An Unspoken Hunger." She also has published two children's books, "The Secret Language of Snow" and "Between Cattails."

Williams has served as visiting professor of English at the University of Utah and naturalist-in-residence at the Utah Museum of Natural History. She lives in Castle Valley, Utah, with her husband.