Melissa L. Sevigny

Science Writer

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

My KNAU story about fishing for exotic brown trout in the Colorado River won two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for Excellence in Writing and Sports Reporting.

I’m featured in Carolyn Wilke’s story “Reporting Unsung Histories of Science,” for The Open Notebook

“The Price of Cherries” is listed as a notable essay in this year’s edition of Best American Science & Nature Writing.

Antonia Malchik, author of The Walking Life, plugs Mythical River in this episode of the Mountain & Prairie podcast.

More news and reviews

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Latest Writing

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. 

Drought is revealing archeological sites that were submerged when Lake Powell filled,” NPR’s All Things Considered, May 30, 2022.

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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.

Mythical River named top Southwest Book of the Year

The Pima County Public Library named Mythical River as a top pick for the 2016 Southwest Books of the Year. Reviewer Vicki Ann Duraine wrote:

Imagine a world in which a river’s conservation was as important as the community it supports. With the insight of a hydrologist and the heart of a poet, Sevigny champions this ideal in her lyrical and exhaustively-researched science journal cum memoir, interweaving the centuries-old paradigm of unlimited natural resources with the facts as she knows them: the Southwest is running out of water and rain does not follow the plow.It is a call to arms: Mythical River may be the most important book you read all year.

Reviewer Bill Broyles said:

She’s balanced, funny, and perceptive… [and] brings a youthful exuberance to her alluring narrative.

Under Desert Skies was also nominated. Learn about all the titles chosen on the Pima County Public Library website or read the Arizona Daily Star’s article.

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