2010 Award Recipient: MICHELLE LANZONI


BLUFF, UT – The Ellen Meloy Fund chose Michelle Lanzoni, a native of the Boston area, as the recipient of the fifth annual Desert Writers Award. A grant of $2,000 will support work on her upcoming book Thirst.

“Michelle Lanzoni is a young writer at work on the most important environmental issue on earth—the issue of water availability to human beings and natural systems,” said Awards Panel member Don Snow. “Michelle has done original research in some of the driest places on the planet where she sees that water scarcity and human conflict increasingly go hand-in-hand. She writes about it with wit, grace, and beauty. We can hardly wait to see what she will eventually produce.”

Trained in biology, Lanzoni writes, "My desert vision links landscapes to water sources. It moves in degrees of salt. Some of these water sources, such as the Colorado River or the Jordan River, are visible. Other sources, such as the over-mined aquifer beneath the Gaza Strip, are not. Key to this landscape map is an intimate familiarity with salt. The dissolved salts carried in rivers, aquifers, and wells map the water’s history and deepen the landscape’s story. Thirst could be divided into three sections—Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Salt.”

Snow noted that Lanzoni’s work arises from a long tradition of scientifically-oriented natural history writing but also shows a rich familiarity with the language of social and environmental justice. “She’s a holistic thinker, very much in the mode of Ellen Meloy. Like Ellen, Michelle profoundly perceives the human connection to the most elemental aspects of our lives – water, earth, animals, air.”

Lanzoni writes, “From a young age I sensed deserts are birthed through the most elemental decisions. When I was sixteen I traveled to the Kalahari desert of Botswana, and I drank, for the first time, water too salty to bear. I have since been molded by deserts of the American Southwest, southern Africa, and the Middle East.

“Thirst is a most potent force. It can be used to promote conflict or peace. It drives ambition and innovation and promotes human collaboration. Humans thirst for justice and dignity and belonging sometimes as much as we do for water. To experience thirst more acutely, I travel to regions where water (or clean water) is scarce and where conflicts over water resources erupt in war. Thirst is the great equalizer. We must drink water or die. Using research, literary journalism and creative nonfiction I hope to persuade a drastic reexamination of our relationships to water and encourage a reverence for life."

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.