2011 Award Recipient: CRAIG CHILDS
The Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers has chosen Arizona native Craig Childs as the recipient of the sixth annual Desert Writers Award. A grant of $2,000 will support work on his upcoming book, which explores the potential advancement of the world’s deserts in an era of climate change.
“Craig Childs is a celebrated writer for good reason,” says Awards Panel member Don Snow. “With the appearance of Craig’s early book, The Secret Knowledge of Water, many of us realized that a strong, new voice had come on the scene. Craig has spent his entire life in the American Southwest, exploring canyons and water potholes and the ancient civilizations of the Fremont and Anasazi people. His intellectual range is wide and deep, but in Craig’s work we always find a rich personal passion as well. He introduces his readers to natural history, archaeology, hydrology, but amid the science, the reader never loses sight of the personal. That’s what makes him a gripping writer of nonfiction.”
An avid trekker who has crossed thousands of miles of arid lands on foot, Childs has published a dozen books, all of them centered in desert experience. Childs writes, “It is the exposure of the desert that draws me. Nothing is hidden. You read it like the very bones of the earth. I have returned to the same canyons season by season, witnessing the way the sun rises in December, the way shadows lose their chill in April, the billowing thunderheads of July, the balance of night and day in September. The map I am making follows human history back thousands of years, and geologic history into the billions.”
Childs’ forthcoming book is his most ambitious to date. The new book project centers on the question of why deserts form, how they affect regional and global climates, and where they fit into the modern issue of climate change. Says Childs, “My thesis is that deserts are a crucial factor in our current geologic epoch and could easily be pushed into a desertifying cascade, throwing the world out of balance. This is a book about politics, economics, science, and ultimately the land itself. It will also be a lyrical, narrative work that allows the reader to viscerally experience the story I am trying to tell.”
Awards Panel member Amy Irvine McHarg, who won the Meloy award in 2009, says of Childs’ application, “While there were strong contenders for this year’s award, the Craig Childs application shone far and above the rest, not only for its breathtaking scope and breadth but also in its ability to be nakedly, passionately, even defiantly intimate with the subject at hand – the desert. This application offered a fine example of what a good body of work must be in order to affect change in the world: daring and sacrificing in its love for place and people. Most attempts at this result in inhibition and awkwardness, the writing of a tourist. Childs’ work is no drive-by.”
Snow notes that Childs’ writing arises from a long tradition of scientifically-oriented natural history writing but also shows a rich familiarity with the language of politics and justice. “Craig is a broad and eclectic thinker, very much in the mode of Ellen Meloy. Like Ellen, Craig Childs profoundly perceives the human reliance upon health ecosystems. Deserts, while beautiful and alluring, can also signal a planetary danger. This is the aspect of the desert that Childs is out to explore.”
Childs writes, “Ultimately, this work will engender a far deeper understanding of deserts than I have ever attempted. In the past, I have written about the complexity and beauty of these landscapes. Now I want to take it a step farther and show how all of our lives are tied to arid lands, revealing how deserts work in a larger climatic picture, and the role they play in the evolution of an entire planet. To do this, I take will take the reader to the ground and show them what deserts are truly like.”
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 Burrows Association Medal for 2007. An earlier work, The Anthropology of Turquoise, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Craig's website: http://www.houseofrain.com/