2015 Award Recipient: MELISSA SEVIGNY


Two pages into Eating Stone, the first book I read by Ellen Meloy, I felt this was a woman I would have liked to know. Ten pages in, I felt not only that I did know her, but that she'd invited me in for a hot cup of coffee and we were sharing secrets normally reserved between sisters. Her wit, her openness, her questing spirit—all of it arrived into my life like the summer monsoon, a tumultuous benediction. And all of it belonged so perfectly to the desert, a place that digs its thorns into you and doesn't let go. I'm honored to join the community of writers who strive to carry on Ellen Meloy's legacy.” —Melissa Sevigny

BLUFF, UT – This year's $3,000 grant will support Melissa Sevigny's book-in-progress, Mythical River. A native of Tucson, Melissa Sevigny earned a dual degree from the University of Arizona in environmental science and creative writing. She worked as a science communicator for NASA’s Phoenix Mars Scout Mission and the Water Resources Research Center in Tucson before heading off to graduate school at Iowa State University, seeking a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. After several years of teaching at Iowa State University, Sevigny recently accepted a position as science and technology reporter for KNAU Radio in Flagstaff.

“Travel has always been important to my writing,” Sevigny said. “The seed for Mythical River began when I accompanied Dr. Jackie King to Costa Rica and Guatemala in 2006 to write about her work to restore natural flows to rivers.”

Sevigny said that her book project, Mythical River, “weaves together the geology, ecology, history, and politics of the American Southwest into a narrative that considers what it means to make a home in a dry place.” According to Sevigny, the book’s intriguing title refers to the Colorado River and “the illusion of constancy, which made the sprawling suburbs and agricultural fields of the Southwest possible, in the face of what are actually ephemeral desert rivers.”

“The book is a timely response to the Southwest’s decades-long drought,” she said. “I write of drought as a force for change, not just a physical force that shapes the matchless flora and fauna of the desert, but one that demands westerners tackle the difficult task of deciding what we value.”

Sevigny has published more than 60 articles and essays on science and environmental topics. Mythical River, her first book, has been accepted for publication by the Univerity of Iowa Press and will appear in spring 2016.

“I think the thing that most attracted us to this particular project was the depth and breadth of its author’s vision,” said Don Snow, chairman of the Ellen Meloy Fund Awards Committee. “Sustained drought and the rapid spread of deserts will soon be on everyone’s mind, certainly in California and across the Southwest, but in many other parts of the world as well. Melissa Sevigny offers a prescient vision in the way she brings science, history, and politics together here. Her particular interests are in ecological restoration, and she’s showing us that we don’t simply need to stand around and wring our hands as we watch the great Colorado River fade away."

Awards Committee member Ann Walka echoed Snow’s assement of Ms. Segivny’s work. “Melissa points out that our optimistic society has spent a century remapping the American Southwest to wring ‘new water’—water that can no longer sustain urban sprawl and industrial agriculture—from the Colorado River system,” Walka said. “In her forthcoming book, she addresses ways that we might learn from deserts and their ephemeral streams to accept limits and become a more resilient society.” 

In her application essay, Sevigny wrote this: “In the spirit of Ellen Meloy’s work, my writing seeks to deepen the lines on the ongoing map writers create to understand our place in the world. Deserts have vital lessons to offer about how to deal with climate change and scarcity. As the first places to feel the effects of prolonged drought, they will have to lead the way toward a more resilient society. I write a map that is undergoing upheaval, even catastrophic change, and yet I also capture what endures: the igneous bedrock of the desert where I grew up, from which I draw strength and hope for its future.”

A group of six Meloy Fund board members comprised the 2015 Award Committee. They included Don Snow and Jake Lodato, both from WA, Ann Walka of Flagstaff, AZ, Jullianne Ballou of Littlerock, AR, Grant Ditzler of San Francisco, and former EMF Award winner Sarah Stewart Johnson, Cambridge, MA. 

2015 Desert Writers Award Finalists

  • Ceal Klingler of Bishop, California

  • Amy Irvine McHarg of Norwood, Colorado

2015 Special Recognition Grant on Water

  • Tara FitzGerald of Brooklyn, New York, is the first recipient of the EMF's new special recognition grant for writing on water. Tara's book project No Water of their Own deals with the plight of the Aral Sea and its communities.