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A Conversation with Jonathan T. Bailey

Finding solace and connection in wild places, Jonathan T. Bailey lived two lives—one of trauma, the other of wonder. In When I Was Red Clay: A Journey of Identity, Healing, and Wonder (August 2022), he navigates self-discovery, grief, and loss of faith with unflinching honesty and biting humor.

Jonathan T. Bailey is a conservation photographer with a background in cultural resources. Author of the photograph and essay collection Rock Art: A Vision of a Vanishing Cultural Landscape, his work has been published in Archaeology Southwest, the Salt Lake Tribune, Indian Country Today, and elsewhere. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.


READ: Tell us about a book that shifted your perspective in some way, and/or made an impression on you.

I may be biased because he’s such a close friend, but R. E. Burrillo’s Behind the Bears Ears is a classic. He presents the Bears Ears with humility and a close attention to accuracy and respect. R. E. has compiled the most thorough account of a region so deeply important and has done so while maintaining a compelling narrative interwoven with stories from his personal life. It is a rare treat to find an archaeology book that feels like a deep soak in knowledge.

Aside from R. E., I would be remiss not to mention Ellen Meloy and Robin Wall Kimmerer. Both authors push the boundaries of what it means to write about wilderness. They give readers allowance to approach wilderness with kindness, curiosity, and a heart full of occasional ridiculousness. Especially as a LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent author, I have enormous gratitude for people like Ellen and Robin who open the door to communities that predominantly consist of straight, white, and strangely irritable men.

REVEAL: What was revealed to you in the process of working on your book?

This is about as difficult as it is easy to answer. I would say the book is the revelation. It began as a private Reddit post that was never actually posted. In the process of unraveling a lot of heartache and trauma, it snowballed into a book. Writing When I Was Red Clay meant uncovering a lot of repressed memories and grappling with things I still struggle to fully comprehend.

REEMERGE: What is feeding/nurturing you these days? What are you looking forward to or stepping in to?

Weird answer: Insects! Well, not literally. I’m not feeding on insects. But I am exploring their worlds, far beyond what the human eye can observe. From the lacewing nymph that wears a “shell” of carried debris on its back, to the careful evolution of bee-like coloration in hoverflies to fool predators, each glimpse into these micro habitats reveals the thin layer of perception on which humans operate.

Related to this exploration of the small is fungus. The planet is interwoven with fungal networks—literally almost everywhere—that can behave like neural pathways for plants to send nutrients, to communicate, and even to recognize their kin. It is inevitable that learning about the interplay of fungi and other organisms results in deep thinking on the big questions: 1) What does it mean to be conscious? 2) Why are we here? 3) What happens to us when we die? 4) What are our obligations as living beings?

Why Torrey House Press?

Torrey House Press gives authors the ability to tell difficult and sometimes uncomfortable stories. Moreover, they give their authors the flexibility to tell these stories in ways that are not always conventional, but honest to our voices.

When I was writing When I Was Red Clay, I originally struggled to force the narrative into a very neurotypical way of writing and thinking about the world. Once the manuscript was accepted by THP, they were incredibly generous with allowing me to simply be myself and write like myself. The book as it stands today is a safe space for diversity, and a project of which I am truly proud, because of Torrey House Press. Freedom of creativity and mindset allows THP authors to push literature forward in ways that a lot of publishers are simply not willing to explore.


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