“In college, I disappeared into poetry classes as a distraction from the rigors of chemistry and microbiology. Soon I discovered writing wasn’t a distraction at all: it was my calling. By writing about science —with lyricism, passion and power—I had the potential to change the way my readers viewed the world around them.”

Melissa Sevigny is a recipient of a 2017 Artist Research & Development Grant.

Artist Research and Development Grants are designed to support the advancement of artistic research, aid in the development of artistic work and recognize the contributions individual artists make to Arizona’s communities. For more information about the Artist Research & Development Grant, click here.

Sevigny was awarded funding in support of her work on a book-length nonfiction manuscript that explores what it means to make a home in a world defined and reshaped by catastrophic events (working title: Raining Fire). Over the next year, she will search out examples of planet-shattering catastrophes close to her Arizona home—the still-shifting lava field of the San Francisco Peaks, the imprint of meteors, the etching of a supernova on Chaco Canyon’s walls. She’ll pay close attention to places where cultures witnessed, survived, or were changed by catastrophe and look for the traces these people left behind. These experiences will inform her thinking about what it means to face a future of climate change in the American Southwest. Relying on interviews with scientists and local experts, as well as her own observations, Sevigny will explore the science of planetary catastrophe and how it relates to our most intimate choices about home and family.

As with her previous books, Sevigny’s primary goal for Raining Fire is to communicate science to a lay audience—not only scientific concepts and facts, but also her deep fascination with the evolving process of science, which reveals the workings of the universe in incremental steps.

 

Sevigny is the author of two nonfiction books. Under Desert Skies: How Tucson Mapped the Way to the Moon and Planets (University of Arizona Press, 2016) explores the rise of the field of planetary science. Mythical River: Chasing the Mirage of New Water in the American Southwest (University of Iowa Press, 2016) is a personal and lyrical exploration of water scarcity. Sevigny grew up in Tucson and studied environmental science and creative writing at the University of Arizona as a Flinn Scholar. She worked as a historian at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory under the late director Michael Drake, which provided the material for her first book. She was also the Education and Public Outreach Coordinator for NASA’s Phoenix Mars Mission, which operated on Mars in 2008. She focused her studies on river restoration and water politics, and worked at the Water Resources Research Center after graduation. By this time she had become absorbed in an idea for a new book: the story of the Buenaventura, a mythical river that once appeared on maps of the American Southwest, seeing in this story a metaphor for misguided solutions to water scarcity. She wrote Mythical River as part of her graduate thesis for Iowa State University’s Creative Writing and Environment MFA program. During this time she worked as an English instructor and as a communicator for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Her skills in science communication eventually brought her back to Arizona. In 2015 she became the science reporter for Flagstaff’s NPR station, KNAU. She received the 2015 Ellen Meloy Grant for Desert Writers and first place from the Arizona Press Club for environmental/science writing.

Sevigny is a member of the National Association of Science Writings and the interviews editor for Terrain.org: A Journal of Built and Natural Environments, a Tucson-based online journal. Her essays and poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide (UA Press, 2016).

Photo by Alexis Knapp.

Banner image: Composite of artist’s photo (by Alexis Knapp) and satellite image of the San Francisco Peaks.