Ellen Meloy Fund


Beauty and Violence in the Desert Southwest

By Ellen Meloy
Henry Holt & Co., New York (1999)

1997 Whiting Writer's Award Recipient

Any day, any time, I would without complaint travel seventy miles to see a claret cup cactus in bloom. The quest would not arise from botanical interest, from some sort of dead butterfly impaling, snake pickling, tweedy naturalist curiosity. If you must know, I seek the claret cup---Echinocereus triglochidiatu, member of the hedgehog cactus family, also called strawberry cactus---for sadomasochistic pleasure.   
~From The Last Cheater's Waltz


From the book jacket

Ellen Meloy fabricates a hand-drawn Map of the Known Universe (centered on her home beside the San Juan River in the red rock country of southern Utah), and rediscovers a terrible truth. Everything, no matter how alive or beloved or beautiful, is ultimately made of fire (and can be detonated). The Last Cheater's Waltz is an elegant confrontation with mortality, heartsprung, funny, and profound.
—William Kittredge

Morbid, macabre, elegant, graceful, beautiful, and flat plain funny, this book crackles with that most wonderful of phenomena, life. It's startling to see how Ellen Meloy sees the world. I'm grateful for her vision.
—Rick Bass 

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A thoughtful recounting of one woman’s travels in the post-Cold War American West . . . Meloy’s wanderings take her to the back roads of the desert Southwest, to hidden canyons where Navajo witchcraft and toxic waste reign side by side, and to little towns where uranium miners wait for cancer to claim them. . . . Meloy has not only rediscovered her connection to the badlands—she’s also made a fine book in the bargain.
—Kirkus Reviews

Meloy celebrates the stark beauty and plumbs the deadly ironies of the Colorado Plateau with words as piercing as the thorns of a claret-cup cactus. Her prickly, penetrating style reflects a deep but unsentimental love for the land she shares with bighorn sheep and Navajo skinwalkers. . . . An intense regional attachment has rarely carried weightier global implications. —Booklist

A painful juxtaposition of natural beauty and warrior wastelands. —New York Times Book Review 


About the Claret-Cup Cactus