Ellen Meloy

Ellen Meloy, one of Utah’s most well-known and beloved nonfiction writers, was born June 21, 1946 in Pasadena, CA. Meloy attended Goucher College in Maryland with a degree in Art, before earning her MA in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana in Missoula. Meloy moved to Utah with her husband, Mark Meloy, a river ranger, in 1989.

Throughout her career, Meloy specialized in what she termed “land-based literature,” using the American southwest as the setting and subject of her highly regarded essays. Meloy’s work explored what she saw as the paradox of the American west in which “[t]he most serene places in the Southwest are also the most egregious places in American human history,” as she told the Albuquerque Journal in 1999.

Meloy published three collections of essays during her lifetime that married her love of the land with her interest in travel. Her first, Raven’s Exile: A Season on the Green River (Henry Holt & Co, 1994), details her experiences traveling Green River through Utah, Colorado and Wyoming with her husband, who patrolled the river for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Her second book, The Last Cheater’s Waltz: Beauty and Violence in the Desert Southwest (Henry Holt & Co, 1999) examined the long-term and often devastating environmental and human consequences of nuclear testing on the New Mexico landscape. Her final book, The Anthropology of Turquoise: Meditation on Landscape, Art and Spirit (Pantheon, 2002) meditates on the cultural role of and meaning turquoise while also tracing Meloy’s travels from Sequoia to the Bahamas and across the Yucatan Peninsula.

Meloy published two other books posthumously: Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild (Pantheon, 2005), which records Meloy’s four-season study of desert bighorn sheep, and a collection of essays entitled Seasons: Desert Sketches (Torrey House Press, 2019).

Meloy was an illustrator, river guide, and self-taught writer who also became a frequent contributing essayist to Utah Public Radio. Her work received a Whiting Award, the Western Writers of America Spur Award, the John Burroughs Medal Award, and the Grand Prize from the Banff Mountain Book Award for Adventure Travel. The Anthropology of Turquoise was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Meloy died on November 4, 2004 at her home in Bluff, Utah. A memorial fellowship, The Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers, was erected in her name by The Ellen Meloy Fund.

Works

Essays reprinted from Seasons: Desert Sketches with permission of Torrey House Press and KUER. 

Bibliography

  • Raven’s Exile: A Season on the Green River (Henry Holt & Co, 1994)

  • The Last Cheater’s Waltz: Beauty and Violence in the Desert Southwest (Henry Holt & Co, 1999)

  • The Anthropology of Turquoise: Meditation on Landscape, Art and Spirit (Pantheon, 2002)

  • Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild (Pantheon, 2005)

  • Seasons: Desert Sketches (Torrey House Press, 2019).