Amy Irvine McHarg wins Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers

The Ellen Meloy Fund has awarded their grant of $2000 to Amy Irvine, author of Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land, to support her work on her upcoming book, Terra Firma.  This is the fund’s fourth annual grant.

She competed for this grant last year, too, when the award went to Joe Wilkins.

Since then, Trespass has garnered a wide readership.  Like Terry Tempest Williams, Irvine comes from Utah Mormon pioneer stock and engages in broad social criticism of her native culture, especially its land use practices.

Recently, Irvine also won the Orion Books Award for Trespass.  The Norwood Press, newspaper for the town Irvine now lives in, reports that Irvine beat out her friend and mentor Terry Tempest Williams, who was a finalist for the Orion award. 

The Norwood Press doesn’t mention what book Williams  had in the running, but it was probably Finding Beauty in a Broken World, which came out at the end of 2008.  I haven’t read this book yet but it’s on my review list.
The Norwood Press further reports Irvine as saying of Trespass, “I was writing about ‘us versus them,’ and it sounded really shrill and one-dimensional …  How was I helping to perpetuate the polarities, the divisions, and what was I doing to change that? We’re all trying to make a better world, and the minute we draw a line in the sand, we’re going to fail. I don’t see things in black and white anymore.”  The Norwood Press article says that it was only after leaving southern Utah and moving to Norwood, Colorado that Irvine was “able to resolve some of the conflicts and complexities of her life and conclude the book. She said that it was after moving that the story ‘took a 90-degree turn,’ and she was able to balance her heritage and her upbringing with her passion for the outdoors and wilderness preservation.”

At a reading she gave last year, Terry Tempest Williams reported having gained similar insight into her stance in her own writing.

The Ellen Meloy Desert Fund site explains that with her new book, Terra Firma, Irvine will be “Guided by Jungian archetypes, the lives of resident animals and the findings of drill rigs and coal miners … to ‘plot the points of a subterranean diagram—charting the vital, relatively unknown layer of the vast map of Deseret’ and posing metaphors for our psyches.” 

This year, I competed for the Ellen Meloy Desert Fund grant for the first time.  With the help of mentors I prepared a grant application and tossed my crusher into the ring.  I didn’t expect to win or even become a finalist; I knew who the competition was.  The experience has provided me valuable insight into how to approach the nature writing community and what I need to do to compete in this language environment.

The Meloy Fund site notes that in reporting Irvine’s award The LA Times  “suggested” that Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land “…might well be Desert Solitaire’s literary heir.”

Jungian archetypes and Cactus Ed’s Desert Solitaire.

Well, we are where we are.

You can find my review of Trespass here.

5 thoughts on “Amy Irvine McHarg wins Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers”

  1. I haven’t read Trespass, but I did read Finding Beauty. It lacked the cohering fire of Leap and Refuge.

    It seemed more obliged than either of those — like a thin, forced awakening during estivation.

  2. Drat, you beat me to it!

    Actually, I’ve tried to read Finding Beauty a couple times but suffer some irritation over all the white space on some pages, placing a thick white frame around bits and pieces. Not sure what the publisher was doing, laying out pages like that, or if it works.

    Based solely on the reading I attended over a year ago, I think TTW is trying to find a new way to go about narrative. It might take her a little while to hit her stride.

  3. Ei…I’m also looking “Finding Beauty”, I’m really eager to read it ‘coz someone told me it’s really nice! Do you know where I can find or buy it? Thanks! And also, congratulations to Amy Irvine!
    Great post Patricia!

  4. Sounds True just published an audio version of Finding Beauty that is both abridged and read by TTW. The podcast interview ST does of TTW is worth a listen, even if you aren’t inclined to do the book in audio form.

  5. I “discovered” the red rock country of southeast Utah in 1976. I just saw this big blank place on the map and decided to go there. Wasn’t long after that I moved to Utah. The most beautiful and confounding place in the lower 48. I love it.

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