Oct 30 05 by Published in: Interviews No comments yet

Author Terry Tempest Williams is ecstatic to answer a ringing phone.

Bereft of service for a month as she moved from her native Utah to a cabin in Wyoming, the sound of a ring tone is pure joy. She delights the ability to make connections, create a space for conversations again.

She’s been a migrant the past few months, returning from a trip to Rwanda, only to turn around leave the “red sands that run in my veins” for the soaring Teton mountain range.

The renowned environmental activist, who writes so elegantly about landscape, so poetically about politics, will be traveling again in a few days, this time heading for the green fields of Lancaster.

She was here last year as part of the Lancaster Literary Guild series. This time she comes as a lecturer to Franklin & Marshall College, speaking Thursday evening at the Green Room Theatre.

“I’m very excited to return,” she says. “I met so many moving people.”

It was in Lancaster that she first shared the ideas for her book “The Open Space of Democracy.” The book, advocating open, active engagement in the democratic process, subsequently got her banned from Florida Gulf Coast University just before the presidential election.

“Lancaster was the seed bed,” she says. “It was that kind of intimacy and generosity of the audience that made it.”

Those in the audience who felt her imperative call to action last year will encounter a different mood this time.

“Last year I was in the activist mode,” she said. “I was asking “what is a democracy?’ and how to stand, speak and ask questions.”

Since then, it’s been “a tough year,” bearing witness to environmental destruction, the aftermath of genocide and her brother’s death from lymphoma.

“This year I come with a much humbler voice,” she says. “I want to share stories of what I heard and saw in Rwanda and speak about the process of forgiveness and listening.”

It’s the conversations she’s interested in, discussing the local issues and how they relate to national and international concerns.

“I am not a person that gives the same talk anywhere,” she says. “I feel that as a writer I have an obligation to share the immediacy of our own lives, otherwise where is the relevancy?”

Right now she’s interested in what she calls “concentric circles of concern” radiating from local communities, forging connections in neighborhoods that spreading around the globe.

A passionate and inspirational speaker, Williams says she’s coming to Lancaster with questions, and stories.

“I’m interested in our consciousness as a nation,” she says. “I’m interested in authentic conversations.”

She wants to share the fallout of her own experience with censorship: “What are we afraid of? How do we take language and open it instead of being closed.”

And she wants to talk about how communities can “bring life back into a broken situation,” specifically, “I want to share stories of how arts and humanities can create an atmosphere of peace.”

She’ll also give a craft talk to F&M students, stressing that what she wants students to learn is the “importance of listening.”

“I don’t often talk about the writing process because for me the issues loom larger,” she says. “I view writing as a very powerful ritual. I love the inspiration of the first draft and the precision and technicality of the revisions.”

A Utah native descended from Mormon pioneers, Williams is best known for her book “Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place,” in which she juxtaposes the flooding of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and the rise of the Great Salt lake with her mother’s ovarian cancer. She is a regular contributor to Orion, The New Yorker and The Nation.


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