Terry Tempest Williams is Scholar in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah. A poet and naturalist, she lives in both Castle Valley, Utah, and Wilson, Wyoming.
Now, with the just-published "Finding Beauty In a Broken World" ($26 in hardcover from Pantheon), Williams offers an extended meditation on the endangered Utah Prairie Dog, threatened by developers, and on the genocide in Rwanda, taking pieces of shattered natural and human worlds and constructing a mosaic. "There is a way of being in the world that calls us beyond hope," she writes. "Mosaic is not simply an art form but a form of integration, a way of not only seeing the world but responding to it."
She will be appearing at Laxson Auditorium at Chico State University this coming Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Sponsored by Chico Performances (www.chicoperformances.com), her presentation is part of the On the Creek Lecture Series. Tickets are $22 Premium, $17 Adult, $15 Senior, $13 Student/Child; for more information call the box office at (530) 898-6333.
"Finding Beauty" begins in Ravenna, Italy, where Williams learns the ancient art of mosaic, the controlling metaphor of the book. She writes that "I believe in the beauty of all things broken," and mosaics exemplify for the author an attempt to come to terms with the brokenness of the contemporary world. Her style is also a mosaic: thousands of short prose paragraphs, letters, poems, quotations, field notes (from several weeks spent in a 10-foot tower observing Prairie Dogs).
She writes in the New York Times in 2003: "As we find ourselves on the eve of war with Iraq, why should we care about the fate of a rodent, an animal many simply see as a 'varmint'? . . . Quite simply, because the story of the Utah prairie dog is the story of the range of our compassion. If we can extend our idea of community to include the lowliest of creatures, call them 'the untouchables,' then we will indeed be closer to a path of peace and tolerance."
"One million Tutsis were murdered in one hundred days. Their killers were neighbors with farm tools, machetes, and hoes." Today there exists a genocide memorial, housing bones. Tiles spell out "Let Us Remember." It is a mosaic.