Terry Tempest Williams recalls an officer patting her down and found a pencil and a pad of paper in Williams’ boot.
When the officer asked Williams what those two objects were, Williams replied “weapons.”
“I think that was the day I became a writer,” Williams said.
Author, activist and conservationist Terry Tempest Williams brought tranquility and tears Thursday to WORLDWISE: Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series at The Clarice.
The College of Arts & Humanities associate dean for Research, Interdisciplinary Scholarship, and Programming, Dr. Sheri Parks, brought up the role of women in conservationism through a flow of questions directed at Williams.
“As you speak, I feel this emotion welling up […] my grandmother always said that when a woman cries, you’re closest to her heart,” Williams responded to Park’s address. “One of the gifts of being here […] is to speak as women speak, but there’s no one there to correct us.”
Williams’ remarks about feminism and the ability to speak confidently around other women stuck with some students.
“I definitely didn’t think of it until she said it but I was like ‘that’s definitely true,’” said Taylor Yano, a sophomore math major. “We should all be able to speak confidently if it’s not just women.”
Williams explained women were told not to speak in patriarchal cultures resulting in women telling tales to each other of their life stories and truths.
“That’s when I feel that I found my voice,” Williams said.
That voice stemmed into a passion for the environment. She recalled first becoming passionate after her grandmother handed her Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to Western Birds.
This passion later transformed into advocacy and activism.
The Nevada Test Site, a U.S. Department of Energy reservation formerly used to test weapons and explosives like the atomic bomb, exposed Tempest’s family, and many other Utah natives, to radiation, causing several members of her family to develop cancer.
She cites this event as the start of activism, attending the protests held at the site.
With her hands in both writing and activism, Williams started questioning her role in both.
“I spent a lot of time thinking: am I an activist or am I an artist? As an activist, is my work discredited? Am I less of a writer?” Williams asked. “Now I just can’t even believe I spent time thinking about that because now to me, it’s not ‘am I an activist or an artist?’ It’s ‘I want to live a life engaged. And both are required at different times.’”
Similar to the balance between writer and activist, a different kind of balance can be found in human nature, she said, which is made up of many different opposing emotions, but are vital to spiritual tranquility.
Williams offered the conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis as example, also giving a glimpse to her time spent in Rwanda.
“It’s not what the Hutus did to the Tutsis […] but what we are capable of as human beings,” Williams said. “If a human being is capable of this kind of atrocity, so am I. If a human being is capable of this kind of forgiveness, so am I. It’s in our contradictory nature and we can make that peace from that.”
Sustainability associate for the Office of Sustainability Tacy Lambiase said Williams’ segment on the paradoxes of people’s lives resonated with her.
“[She said] there’s never necessarily a clear path in what you’re doing in terms of your career or personal life,” Lambiase said. “You just kind of have to try different things and see what works for you individually.”
For Williams this involved incorporating both of her passions into her work.
Williams said the arts and humanities can create a habitat of peace in our world and cope with the advancements of science.
“Science created the atomic bomb. The humanities help us understand how to live with it […] environmental humanities incorporates both.”
Editor’s Note: Co-managing editor Savannah Tanbusch contributed to this article.
Allene Abrahamian is a graduate student in broadcast journalism and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.