I live and write off-the-grid, on a remote mesa in southwest Colorado, just spitting distance from my Utah homeland. I am currently at work on a book about Bronze Age women warriors who are being unearthed at an unprecedented rate, thanks to climate change melting the Eurasian steppe’s permafrost. The question: How might these women help us remember who we are, in relationship to the natural world? How might that remembrance help us save what remains?
How did you discover Western?
As a young girl. We passed through on a family camping trip!
What are some of the highlights of your career?
I am a sixth-generation Utahn and longtime public lands advocate—and these facts inform my work and my teaching. My memoir, Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land (North Point Press, 2008), received the Orion Book Award, the Ellen Meloy Desert Writer’s Award and the Colorado Book Award. My latest book, Desert Cabal: A New Season in the Wilderness (Torrey House Press, 2018), is a feminist critique of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness; the book was added to Outside’s Outdoor Adventure Canon and named by Stanford University’s climate scientists’ 2019 Summer Reading List. My shorter works have appeared in Orion, Rock & Ice, Outside, Lit Hub, High Desert Journal, Triquarterly and High Country News. One essay, “Spectral Light,” (Orion, 2010 /The Best American Science and Nature Writing of 2011), was a finalist for the Pen Award in Journalism; another essay “Conflagrations: Motherhood, Madness & a Planet on Fire” (Pacific Standard, July 2016), was listed in the Notables section of 2017’s Best American Essays. My work also appears in numerous western, nature/environmental anthologies—including Red Rock Testimony, which was instrumental in persuading President Barack Obama to establish the Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah. I have taught in Whitman College’s Semester in the West, the University of Utah’s Environmental Humanities Program, and at Fishtrap’s Outpost.
What most excites you about your field?
We are living in a time of great ecological uncertainty. Politics may divide us, but stories unite us. More than ever, we need the deep stories of place to galvanize. To save and sustain what remains. There is nothing I love more than helping writers find their own voice, and the story that is timely, that wants to be be in conversation at both the personal and the panoramic level.
What is your favorite thing about the Gunnison Valley?
Gunnison is such wonderful connective tissue between the high country and lower, more desert climes. There’s a feeling of the Old West, wed meaningfully to a newer, ever-evolving one. Gunnison feels, more than anything, like a place of possibility.
CRWR 688 Writing about Nature and Society
Desert Cabal: A New Season in the Wilderness (Torrey House Press)
“Dear Mr. Abbey,” Orion Magazine
“Rock,” Rock & Ice Magazine
“Dear Edward Abbey, Things Aren’t Looking So Good America’s Wild,” Literary Hub
“Edward Abbey’s Warnings Were Right,” High Country News
“When Sacred Places Like the Bears Ears Are Broken It Breaks All of Us” Salt Lake Tribune (featured commentary, Sunday Opinion Section)
“Taking on Edward Abbey: An Interview with Amy Irvine,” by Leslie Jamison, Paris Review Online (interview)
“Confronting Edward Abbey on the 50th Anniversary of ‘Desert Solitaire,’” Pacific Standard (interview)
“Amy Irvine Takes Ed Abbey to Task in Desert Cabal,” OutsideOnline (review)
“Desert Cabal’ Praises and Challenges Ed Abbey’s Wilderness Legacy,” Adventure Journal (review)
“Blowing in on a Winter’s Wind,” This Immeasurable Place: Food and Farming from the Edge of Wilderness (environmental essay)
“Seeing Red,” Red Rock Testimony (Bears Ears Anthology, Torrey House Press)
“Conflagrations: Motherhood, Madness & a Planet on Fire,” The Pacific Standard (feature feminist/environmental essay)
“Baranof Island” Off-Assignment Magazine (travel/feminist/environmental essay)
“Through a Glass Brightly” Columbia Journal (post-election feminist essay)
“Guns and Roses” Telluride Magazine (hunting/feminist essay)
“Summiting Free Box,” Patagonia kids winter catalog (featured environmental essay)
“Seeing Red,” Patagonia winter catalog (featured environmental essay)
“Spectral Light,” The 2011 Best American Science & Nature Writing (Mariner Books, ed. Mary Roach)
“Red,” West of 98: Living and Writing in the New American West (University of Texas Press, ed. by Lynn Stegner and Russell Rowland)
“Spectral Light: Black & White Thinking in the New, Old West,” Orion
“Mother’s Milk,” High Desert Journal
“Terra Firma,” Triquarterly 133 “Strong Medicine,” (Northwestern University, guest ed. by Donna Seaman)
2008 and earlier
“Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land” excerpt in High Desert Journal
“The Path of Destruction” Climber’s Choice: The Best of Writing on Climbing (McGraw Hill)
Making a Difference: Stories of How Our Outdoor Industry and Individuals are Working to Preserve America’s Natural Places (Globe Pequot /Falcon Press)
“An Appetite for Protection” essay in Patagonia Catalog— appeared as part of a wilderness essay series with Terry Tempest Williams, Gary Snyder, and David Brower
“Natural Order” Two in the Wild, (Vintage)
“Sidelines,” Whatever It Takes: Women on Women’s Sport, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
External Professional Affiliations
Mountainview Low-Residency MFA Program – Southern New Hampshire University
Semester in the West – Whitman College
Environmental Humanities – University of Utah
Orion Magazine Environmental Writing Workshops – Omega Institute and the Southwest Research Station at the American Museum of Natural History
Outpost – Fishtrap, at the Zumwalt Prairie Reserve in Oregon