Terry Tempest Williams

Undergraduate Commencement Speaker
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters

Writer, naturalist, and freedom-of-speech advocate Terry Tempest Williams will deliver the University of Rhode Island’s 2023 Commencement address at the University-wide ceremony Saturday, May 20, which will begin at 10 a.m. on the Kingston Campus Quadrangle.

“We are so pleased to have Terry Tempest Williams deliver this year’s commencement address,” URI President Marc Parlange said. “Not only a prolific writer, Professor Williams is a powerful and moving speaker. Last year she gave a poignant and thought-provoking talk on campus, and we are honored to have her back for this momentous University celebration.”

An award-winning author who has shown how environmental issues are social issues that become matters of justice, Williams asks tough and challenging questions, such as “What might a different kind of power look like, feel like, and can power be redistributed equitably even beyond our own species?”

She has testified before Congress on women’s health, been a guest at the White House, camped in the Utah and Alaska wildernesses, and worked as “a barefoot artist” in Rwanda. 

Williams is the author of the environmental literature classics: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and PlaceAn Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the FieldDesert QuartetLeap;  Red: Passion and Patience in the DesertThe Open Space of DemocracyFinding Beauty in a Broken World; When Women Were BirdsThe Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks; and The Story of My Heart by Richard Jeffries, as rediscovered by Brooke Williams and Terry Tempest Williams. Her most recent books are Erosion — Essays of Undoing and The Moon Is Between Us with photographer Fazal Sheikh.

Among the honors bestowed on Williams are the 2006 Robert Marshall Award from The Wilderness Society, the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Western American Literature Association, the Wallace Stegner Award given by The Center for the American West, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in creative nonfiction.

In 2009, Williams was featured in Ken Burns’ PBS series on the national parks. In 2014, on the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, she received the Sierra Club’s John Muir Award, and in 2017 she was presented the Audubon New York Award for Environmental Writing. In 2019, she was given The Robert Kirsch Award, a lifetime achievement prize given to a writer with a substantial connection to the American West. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Williams is writer-in-residence at the Harvard Divinity School. She divides her time between the red rock desert of Utah and Cambridge, Massachusetts.