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THE PRECARIOUS WALK: Essays from Sand and Sky

by Phyllis Barber 

"Barber’s book is a witness to the divine that is in nature and in the soul. To journey with her is to discover what’s timeless."


From a backwoods church in Arkansas to the disappeared town of St. Thomas buried beneath the waters of Lake Mead, award–winning essayist Phyllis Barber travels roads both internal and external, reflecting upon place and perspective, ambition and loss. Inspired by Flannery O'Connor and David James Duncan, Barber adds a deeply generous and—true to her high–desert roots—down–to–earth voice to the illumination of human experience.

June 2022 | Nonfiction | 978-1-948814-59-1 | 230 pp |$18.95 

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PHYLLIS BARBER is an award–winning author of nine books, including The Desert Between Us, Raw Edges, and How I Got Cultured. Winner of the AWP Prize for Creative Nonfiction, she has published essays and short stories in North American Review, Crazyhorse, and Kenyon Review. She has been cited as Notable in The Best American Essays and The Best American Travel Writing. In 2005, Barber was inducted into the Nevada Writers' Hall of Fame. Barber has taught at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and the University of Utah's Osher Institute. She lives in Park City, Utah.

Author photo: M. Sushoreba


“Probing . . . thoughtful meditations on the needs of the soul.”

“As shifting and lyrical as a sonata . . . Barber’s book is a witness to the divine that is in nature and in the soul. To journey with her is to discover what’s timeless.”
—FOREWORD REVIEWS (starred review)


“Essays of both containment and release. . . . Barber’s book is a bloom in the sun.”


“Each essay contains a story written with so much precision and imagery, it feels as though one might be reading a novel, instead of navigating the author’s deepest thoughts. The Precarious Walk feels both current and historic, a potential time capsule to understand what it was like to live in the Mojave Desert during such a pivotal time.”


“Barber wields luminous narrative skills to recall her desert childhood and explore her ‘precarious’ spiritual journey. A latter-day desert-dwelling non-fiction Willa Cather, she roots her loving family stories in vivid landscape. A fine essayist in pursuit of spiritual grounding, she finds God in the ‘succulent, generous, breathtaking . . . frightening, windblown unpredictable desert,’ and yet she knows she’ll always be ‘tangled in Mormon thread.’ Her ‘yen for the Soul’ leads her through a whirl of essential questions. Barber makes a thought-provoking companion as she searches for answers.”
—STEPHEN TRIMBLE, author of The Mike File: A Story of Grief and Hope


“Where are you headed, dear one? To a silent retreat? To your roots in the rich dirt? To a faraway place seeking answers? To a drying-up waters? To a reassessment of your faith? Barber has been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale and thank goodness. In this book I find a mapping of the days to come, of what it will mean to grow older, perhaps wiser, to surrender to the earth itself. Wherever you are headed, pick it up and take it with you.”
—JOANNA BROOKS, author of The Book of Mormon Girl and Mormonism and White Supremacy


“What an extraordinary book! The essays in Barber’s The Precarious Walk chronicle her deeply moving and inspiring lifelong quest to discover both the Divine—whether it be called God, Goddess, Yahweh, Allah, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, Krishna, or Spirit—and her essential self, which she compares to the core of a matryoshka, a Russian nesting doll that contains a series of smaller and smaller dolls, each one similar yet different in some important way from the others. Her book is itself a kind of matryoshka, each essay revealing a stage in her quest to comprehend the Divine and her self. Barber’s walk may be a precarious one but it’s also an essential one, and I urge you to read her book and join her on her journey.”
—DAVID JAUSS, author of Glossolalia: New & Selected Stories


"A walk of wisdom that bears the rich fruit of a life lived in forbearance and in careful balance between the push of culture and the pull of the desert. Barber's words and stories point us to what only music and the gentleness of a desert wind can teach, that we are one, not only with each other but with a gracious planet.”

—GEORGE B. HANDLEY, author of Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River


“Barber is a masterful evocator of landscape—whether it’s the dry, expansive desert landscape in which she was raised, the deep, expansive religious landscape she has tried to escape, or the ever-shifting sands of literature’s landscape. Each landscape, whether geographical, spiritual, or literary (and sometimes all three), calls to her as if they are burrowed in her bones. I found it remarkable to wander with her on her written quest for answers to all kinds of questions in this collection of essays.”
—TANYA MILLS, The Book Bungalow


DESERT CHROME: Water, a Woman, and Wild Horses in the West

Kathryn Wilder's personal story of grief, motherhood, and return to the desert entwines with the story of America’s mustangs as Wilder makes a home on the Colorado Plateau, her property bordering a mustang herd. Desert Chrome illuminates these controversial creatures—their complex history in the Americas, their powerful presence on the landscape, and ways to help both horses and habitats stay wild in the arid West—and celebrates the animal nature in us all.


“Testimony to the healing power of wildness . . . a candid memoir that interweaves a trajectory of loss, pain, and hard-won serenity with a paean to wild horses.” 

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