Melissa L. Sevigny

Science Writer

Upcoming Events

Saturday, March 25 – Flagstaff Barnes & Noble Local Authors Meet & Greet – 12pm-2pm at the Flagstaff Mall

Tuesday, May 23 – Book birthday! Grand Canyon Trust virtual lecture, Brave the Wild River, 5pm

Thursday, May 25 An Evening with Melissa Sevigny — Book Launch Party at Bright Side Bookshop in Flagstaff, Arizona, 5:30pm-7:30pm. Tickets required–purchase your copy from Bright Side Books to reserve your spot at this event. Details here:

Wednesday, May 31 – Brave the Wild River presentation at Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colorado.

Thursday, June 1 – Brave the Wild River presentation at Grand County Public Library in Moab, Utah, 7pm. Pre-order your copy from Back of Beyond Books.

Saturday, June 3 – Brave the Wild River presentation at Uintah County Library in Vernal, Utah, 2pm.

Tuesday, June 13 – Grand Canyon Historical Society virtual outing, Brave the Wild River, 6pm MST, details here:

Thursday, June 15 Brave the Wild River presentation at Flagstaff Public Library, details TBA

Thursday, June 22 – Arizona Historical Society virtual lecture, Brave the Wild River, details TBA

Friday, July 28 – Brave the Wild River presentation in Silver City, New Mexico, sponsored by the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, details TBA

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Brave the Wild River, coming May 2023

The riveting tale of two pioneering botanists and their historic boat trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

In the summer of 1938, botanists Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter set off down the Colorado River, accompanied by an ambitious expedition leader and three amateur boatmen. With its churning rapids, sheer cliffs, and boat-shattering boulders, the Colorado was famed as the most dangerous river in the world. But for Clover and Jotter, it held a tantalizing appeal: no one had surveyed the Grand Canyon’s plants, and they were determined to be the first.

Through the vibrant letters and diaries of the two women, science journalist Melissa L. Sevigny traces their forty-three-day journey, during which they ran rapids, chased a runaway boat, and turned their harshest critic into an ally. Their story is a spellbinding adventure of two women who risked their lives to make an unprecedented botanical survey of a little-known corner of the American West at a time when human influences had begun to change it forever.

Coming from W.W. Norton, May 23, 2023

Pre-order now

Advance Praise from Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile:

In Brave the Wild River, Melissa Sevigny unfurls one of the finest river stories of the Grand Canyon while presenting a long overdue, richly deserved, and beautifully written tribute to a pair of legendary botanists who peeled back the petals of a mysterious, intoxicating landscape, and made it blossom with new knowledge and wonder.

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Latest News

Kirkus gives Brave the Wild River a starred review, calling it “a beautiful tribute to two pioneering women of science.”

Publisher’s Weekly gives Brave the Wild River a starred review: “Sevigny recreates their expedition in novelistic detail, producing a narrative as propulsive as the current of the Colorado. Readers will be swept away.”

I moderate a Q&A with Dr. Alan Stern about the future of NASA’s New Horizons mission for Lowell Observatory’s I Heart Pluto Festival. Watch it here.

I’m featured in this article on women in science in The NAU Review

More news and reviews

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Latest Writing

Grassroots efforts bring firewood to Hopi people,” NPR’s All Things Considered, January 16, 2023.

NASA returns to its old training grounds: The moonlike lava fields of Arizona,” NPR’s Morning Edition, November 10, 2022. 

Drought puts a stop to artificial floods that have helped restore habitat,” NPR’s All Things Considered, October 13, 2022.

Apache tribes in Arizona are leading the way in saving Emory oak trees,” NPR’s Weekend Edition, September 11, 2022. 

More writing

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Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award

Melissa L. Sevigny is a winner in the 2019-20 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition, taking the gold place in the Adventure Travel category for “The Wild Ones” in The Atavist Magazine. The annual competition is sponsored by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation. Winners of the awards, the most prestigious in the field of travel journalism, were announced October 16, 2020, at the annual conference of SATW, the premier professional organization of travel journalists and communicators. This year’s gathering was a virtual event.

The competition drew 1,299 entries and was judged by faculty at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. This year, the SATW Foundation presented 99 awards in 26 categories and more than $21,000 in prize money to journalists. The awards are named for Lowell Thomas, acclaimed broadcast journalist, prolific author and world explorer during five decades in journalism.

In honoring Sevigny’s “remarkable re-creation” of Lois Jotter and Elzada Clover’s 1938 expedition down the Grand Canyon, the judges said: “Her chronological narrative is full of colorful details and used tension and foreshadowing. The story also showed that women could face danger as well as the men.”

Book deal announcement

Science journalist Melissa Sevigny’s BRAVE THE WILD RIVER, tracing the remarkable forty-three-day whitewater journey of botanists Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter through the Grand Canyon in 1938 to record what would become the baseline of plant life in the canyon, and telling the larger story of botany’s role in explaining how our landscape has changed, and how dams, invasive species, and other human impacts transformed the canyon’s ecology, to Matt Weiland at Norton, at auction, by Laurie Abkemeier at DeFiore and Company (world English).


New writing in Orion

THE SECOND SPRING in our new home, the tree by the mailbox bursts into white blossoms. Last year, the blooms snapped off under a hard late frost. But now I hope for apples. The flowers give way to small green spheres, but they never grow any larger than a thumbprint. When they begin to blush pink, my father, up the mountain for a visit, plucks one off the tree and tastes it. “Cherries,” he says.

Read the rest of “The Price of Cherries” in the fall issue of Orion magazine.

The Wild Ones – new writing in the Atavist Magazine

“Women do not belong in the Canyon of the Colorado,” declared a famous river-runner in 1938. But 24-year-old botanist Lois Jotter would change his mind. Read this longform narrative in The Atavist Magazine of the adventures of  two female scientists who rafted the Colorado River in 1938, determined to make the first botanical survey of the Grand Canyon. (Photo credit University of Michigan Herbarium, Clover & Jotter collection – used with permission).

New writing in Desert Leaf

Check out the March 2017 issue of Desert Leaf for my story on Messier Marathons. These all-night star parties honor 18th century astronomer Charles Messier, whose catalog includes 110 deep-sky objects, which you can see in a single night in March!

Mythical River recognized by John Burroughs Association

Mythical River was named a “Nature Book of Uncommon Merit” by the John Burroughs Association, which honors the best published nature writing. This year’s John Burroughs Medal went to Brian Doyle’s novel Martin Marten. Other medal finalists, in addition to Mythical River, were John Lane’s Coyote Settles the South, Nick Neely’s Coast Range, and J. Drew Lanham’s The Home Place. Learn more about the award.

2017 Artists Research and Development Grant

The Arizona Commission on the Arts awarded Melissa Sevigny a 2017 Artists Research and Development Grant, in addition to the Bill Desmond Writing Award, for a nonfiction book project. It explores what it means to make a home in a world defined and reshaped by catastrophic events. She will rely on interviews with scientists and local experts, as well as her own observations, to explore the science of planetary catastrophe and how it relates to our most intimate choices about home and family.

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