2014 Award Recipient: Adelheid Fischer
We are very pleased to announce the recipient
of the 2014 Desert Writers Award:
of Phoenix, Arizona
This year's $3,000 grant will support Adelheid's
current work in progress, The Ecology of Grief.
The Old English root of the word care is cearu, which means to guard or watch, "to trouble oneself." For desert writers, cearu is to trouble oneself in the service of wonder. It’s to brave the Utah slickrock on a hot day in late July to make the acquaintance of a tiny mite that lives nowhere else in the world but in the desert potholes of the Colorado Plateau. In return for your taking the trouble, you get this: the chance to keep company with folks like those in Ellen Meloy’s ever-expanding circle—writers, readers, desert lovers—who will join hands with you, drop to their knees and bless the day they first tasted desert dirt. - Adelheid Fischer
The author of dozens of magazine articles and essays, Fischer began writing on natural history and environmental subjects in the early-1990s when she was living in Minnesota.
She is the co-author of two books, Valley of Grass: Tallgrass Prairie and Parkland of the Red River Region which won the 1999 Minnesota Book Award for nature writing. With co-author Chel Anderson, a Minnesota ecologist, she has recently completed work on North Shore: An Ecology of Place, a book on Lake Superior forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press.
Fischer relocated to Phoenix in 1998 where she serves as manager of InnovationSpace, a product-development program at Arizona State University. She leads the program's biomimicry initiative, which introduces students to the use of biology as a means of sustainable innovation in design, business and engineering.
“Our student teams in design, business and engineering have learned to use biomimicry as a means of sustainable innovation in new product development,” Fischer said. “They study the ways in which nature solves its challenges as inspiration for creating sustainable solutions to similar human problems.”
Since moving to Phoenix, the deserts of the American Southwest have become the focus of Fischer’s writing. Her most recent work-in-progress, The Ecology of Grief, is, in her words, “a creative nonfiction book that examines catastrophic loss and change in desert systems, from ancient megafaunal extinctions to the shrubification of high-elevation grasslands.”
The event that set The Ecology of Grief into motion was the sudden death of Fischer’s husband in 2005.
“This book is not intended to be just another hand-wringing work on the effects of climate change,” said Don Snow, chairman of the Ellen Meloy Fund Awards Committee. He explains, “What Heidi Fischer is doing here is exploring two kinds of grieving which are thought to occupy separate universes of emotion: grieving for the death of a loved one, and mourning the loss of valued places and ecologies. It’s conceived to be an excellent natural history book, but also a deeply moving work that will connect the personal with the ecological."
The book will focus largely on Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains and other desert mountain ranges known as the “sky islands.”
“The Sky Islands are home to a wide range of endemic species,” said Fischer, “but they also are a crossroads for organisms from other regions. Plant and animal species that travel the spine of the Rockies from the north mingle with more southerly species from Mexico’s Sierra Madres.”
Despite their great biodiversity and ecological significance, the desert sky islands have received little attention from nature writers. As Awards Committee member Jake Lodato said, “That was one of the main reasons why we took such an interest in Heidi Fischer’s project. The mountains she loves are really not very well-known, but they are fascinating places.”
A group of five Meloy Fund board members comprised the 2014 Award Committee. Along with Snow and Lodato, both from Washington State, panel members included Ann Walka from Flagstaff, AZ, Jullianne Ballou from Littlerock, AR, and last year’s Meloy Award winner Sarah Stewart Johnson from Cambridge, MA.
Snow cited the intensity of Fischer’s writing as the main thing that drew him to favor Fischer’s proposal, one of fifty-six in this year’s competition. He cited the following passage as an example:
“I’m interested in probing the language and intellectual frameworks that disturbance ecologists use to describe the process of radical change in nature. In their work, I have sought to identify powerful concepts and metaphors that nonscientists like me might borrow to understand similarly profound disturbances in human lives, most notably for me, the sudden loss of my spouse of 24 years. The goal of my research is to examine the blasted ecologies of desert mountain and grassland systems—and the ecosystem of my own life—and to discover ways in which their evolutionary trajectories might be nudged in directions that trend toward greater fullness and wholeness.”
The Ellen Meloy Fund supports writers whose work reflects the spirit and passion for the desert embodied in Meloy’s writing and in her commitment to a “deep map of place.” Before her untimely death in 2004, Meloy published four books, numerous articles, and radio commentaries. Her last book, Eating Stone, won the John Burroughs Association Medal for 2007. An earlier work, The Anthropology of Turquoise, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
More information about Ellen Meloy, the Fund for Desert Writers, and the annual award can be found at www.ellenmeloy.com
Recipients Speak Out: Carrying on Ellen Meloy's Literary Legacy
Ellen Meloy was drawn to the desert's immense, trembling landscape, and her rigorous and courageous exploration of its far reaches drew us with her. To be given an award in her name is such a gift. I can only aspire to write so beautifully. ~ Sarah Stewart Johnson, 2013
Ellen Meloy writes of wild things - herself included - with such dazzle, wit, and wonder. From the astonishing poetry of her words to the soaring, exploring life and spirit they reflect, she is a role model of mine in more than simply a literary sense. I am so honoured to be associated with her legacy through this award.
~ Kate Harris, 2012
Being in this land, you realize how intimate it is, a tight neighbor-hood of canyons, plains, rivers, plateaus, and mountains. Maybe every geography is like this, but we belong to this one. It is a home in itself. When I received Ellen’s award, I understood even more who and what I was writing for. I felt rooted into this lineage of writers and readers who know what it means to stand on this iron-rust ground and belong.
~ Craig Childs, 2011
I am deeply honored to join the Ellen Meloy family of writers. Ellen combined the artistry of words with the lens of a scientist. She was a gifted writer and an empathetic soul. I am continually struck by the eloquence and ingenuity of her language; I am changed by the thoughts she placed in my head. ~ Michelle Lanzoni, 2010
To receive the Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Award is to brush up against Ellen's grace, to sway against her glittering body of work. And the funds provided have allowed me to forge ahead with ... a project that was difficult to launch amid the financial uncertainties of today's publishing world. Indeed, when it is finished, the project will be all the better for having Ellen's mark on it. ~ Amy Irvine McHarg, 2009
I'm truly grateful for the help the Ellen Meloy Fund has provided me, and I more than admire Ellen's relationship with the desert country and her art--hers was a life to aspire to. ~ Joe Wilkins, 2008
I wrote because I had been there, thanks to Ellen Meloy, who cherished the ways of the desert, and the Ellen Meloy Fund and community at large, which honors her memory and the things she loved. Supporting the Ellen Meloy Fund is supporting this dream of traveling and writing deserts and their secrets across our planet. ~ Lily Mabura, 2007
With its very existence and recognition of desert writers, the EMF provides a hub of support that honors and protects the land. I can't think of anything more important to such perilous times for fragile environments. ~ Rebecca Lawton, 2006
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The Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers is a nonprofit organization with tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3).