Terry Tempest Williams: Biography & Books

Instructor: Douglass Gunselman

Doug is currently a head middle school principal and has taught middle school/high school English/speech/computers. He has a master's degree in Educational Administration.

Terry Tempest Williams is a well-known author who is also known as a conservationist and activist for various movements. This lesson will provide information about her life and the books she authored.


If you like books written about nature and/or social issues, then perhaps you should explore the work of Terry Tempest Williams.

Terry Tempest Williams was born September 8, 1955 in Corona, California. Williams grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. She loved the Salt Lake area, which is described as beautiful and rooted in the Mormon faith. She graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in English in 1978 and a Master of Science degree in Environmental Education in 1984. In her career, she has been a teacher, curator, author and naturalist.

As a child she and her family were exposed to harmful radiation which resulted in several family members getting cancer. Some family members, including her mother, died from the disease. This unfortunate experience was a motivation to write one of her most famous works, which we will take a look at in a moment.

The natural beauty and Mormon culture of Utah have been a great influence on Williams' beliefs and writing career. She is very involved with political issues and especially taking care of our environment.


Williams has authored several books in her life with a majority of her works influenced by her surroundings, experiences and culture in Utah. To say her writing is unique would be an understatement; it is truly an experience that only her readers can truly understand.

Williams' first book was published in 1984. The Secret Language of Snow was a children's book that won the New York Academy of Sciences, Children's Science Book Award in 1984. She also authored the children's book, Between Cattails, in 1985.

Williams' most famous book, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, (1991) won her the Mormon Arts & Letters Association, Personal Essay Award in 1991. This book described manmade mistakes that caused negative effects on the wildlife of Utah and Williams' mother, who had cancer. The Great Salt Lake floods, and the wildlife in the area were basically left homeless because of commercial/residential development around the lake. Williams herself was faced with the fact that her mother, some relatives, and people in the community had cancer that they linked to nuclear testing in the region.

Some other books Williams authored include:

An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field (1994) - Williams writes about our need to be close with nature.

Coyote's Canyon (1989) - In this book, Williams describes in great detail southern Utah's desert canyons.

Desert Quartet: An Erotic Landscape (1995) - Mormon Arts & Letters Association, Personal Essay Award Recipient in 1995. Williams details the natural landscape of the desert and a woman's spiritual meditation in this place.

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