A Conversation with Phyllis Barber


Shaped by the windblown sands and vast horizon of the Great Basin, Phyllis Barber probes and celebrates her high-desert roots throughout a new collection of personal essays on place and perspective, ambition and loss. Torrey House Press will publish The Precarious Walk: Essays from Sand & Sky in May 2022.


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.


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


I read so much that to name one book is precarious, indeed. I will say that Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories changed my perception of what a writer can say through taking outlandish positions in outlandish situations. Her angle into fiction was very inspiring, and I wish I could live long enough to write as she has. I take the world very seriously, methinks, and yet O’Connor does, too, in her quirky way. Above all, I want to be the best writer I can be, however I can accomplish that.

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


My book is a book of essays written over a period of twenty-five years, and it is through my essays that I have explored how I think and feel about a subject. All of us have so much to say and so many issues with which we wrangle. Writing the essays gave me the opportunity to clear my mind, to reveal some inner thoughts, and to put them in a particular light in which I could see better. I don’t believe in an arrival point where everything is understood. The effort to understand is a lifelong pursuit, and what I have learned is that we only see partially, no matter how hard we try. But these essays have been a great starting point.

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


I’m currently assisting my husband, who has had Parkinson’s disease for about twelve years now. To be a caregiver is not my strong suit, so I am learning much about being patient. I am quietly essaying all of what faces both of us these days. It is important to me to be generous with the man who receives what care I can give. Both ends of the spectrum require new and broader understanding.

Why Torrey House Press?


I chose Torrey House Press without any question because I love what this press is doing: reaching out to the land, to the environment, to the people who have lived and walked through the West. This is a different region from the Northeast, the Northwest, the South, and I believe that Torrey House Press is dedicated to enriching the writing available to readers who want to know and appreciate more about this part of the world.


Help bring The Precarious Walk by Phyllis Barber to the page.