University of New Hampshire
Mentor: Dr. Diane P. Freedman, Associate Professor of English
The Healing Connections of Landscape: An Interdisciplinary Study of Terry Tempest Williams' Memoir, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place
Terry Tempest Williams' Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place resounds with the death of her mother by ovarian cancer and the mastectomies of nine women in her family. She refers to these women as the "Clan of the One-breasted Women" and out of these nine women, seven have died of cancer. The deaths are not coincidence as Williams' family members were "downwinders" of nuclear testing done in the 1950's and 1960's. The United States Government knowingly exposed its citizens to radiation but it was not until the 1980's, when men and women from Utah, Nevada and northwestern Arizona took the matter to court, that the Government accepted any responsibility. In 1987, after her mother's death, Williams was arrested along with nine other Utah women for trespassing onto military lands at the Nevada Test Site in opposition of continued nuclear testing. From this point on Williams joins the historical tradition of the poet/writer as the "town crier" as her political involvement intertwines with science and the poetics of words.
The focus of this study will be on "the healing connections of landscape" that take place in Refuge. In her memoir, Williams moves through resisting her mother's death to acceptance and finally towards political activism. In the telling of this story Williams effectively draws an ironic parallel between the rise of the Great Salt Lake, a natural event, and her mother's illness, which was caused by technology. As she moves from resistance towards acceptance, she does so by connecting with the landscape where she finds emotional healing and is able to embrace her own spirituality. As I use an ecocritical as well as an ecopsychological approach to explore these "healing connections" I am able to explore the role of the nature writer in the environmental crisis. In this study it is my intention to point out the multiple levels of healing which take place in Refuge and that the writing of Terry Tempest Williams is a means of facilitating personal and political change.