33rd Annual Reading the West Book Award Winner for Memoir, 2023 Foreword INDIES Award Silver Winner, LGBTQ+, and New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards Finalist for Memoir and LGBTQ
"Readers will find hope and peace on these beautifully written pages."—LIBRARY JOURNAL (starred review)
A young person's story of growing up gay in a rural Mormon town and the wild places where he found refuge.
This intimate record lays bare one person's experience growing up in a rural Mormon community and struggling to reconcile his sexual orientation with the religious doctrine of his childhood. Weaving together prose, poetry, and stories scrawled on the margins of high school notebooks, Jonathan T. Bailey encounters truth-seeing owls, anachronistic gourds, and the hard-edged realities of family and church. In When I Was Red Clay, he navigates desert landscapes, mental health, and the 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 literary memoir When I Was Red Clay: A Journey of Identity, Healing, and Wonder and 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.
"A courageous memoir of growing up gay in a rural Mormon community and avoiding erasure by finding refuge in wilderness."
—TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS, The New York Times
"In Bailey's profoundly moving memoir, the diversity of creation illuminates the inner landscape and inspires healing—and wonder. The past is a gift, Bailey says, and this brave journey into the intimate wilderness is another gift. With the clarity and fresh eyes of meditation, we visit the topography of bones, the meaning of the natural world, and the centering of spirit within ourselves, within community, and in our footsteps and vision. In the true meaning of the word: this book is awesome."
—GEORGE K. ILSLEY, author of The Home Stretch: A Father, a Son, and All the Things They Never Talk About
"Utah's Emery County maps hard ideological boundaries over some of the harshest landscapes of the arid West. Even so, the stratified cliffs, seeping recesses, and crustal sinks testify of lush and various inhabitations, eon upon eon. Utterly here, Bailey confines us to a temporal body untenable and ecstatic, hypersensitized to the play of surface and interior, opacity and revelation, hostility and intimacy. This kind of writing can only emerge from the awful beauty of always-yet-never Home."
—KARIN ANDERSON, author of Before Us Like a Land of Dreams
"When I Was Red Clay is honest as acid and proof that nature can provide."
"Touching on current events and topics, from conservation and immigration to suicide and autism, Bailey has penned a thought-provoking memoir. The wilderness of deserts in Utah and Arizona are their own characters…Readers will find hope and peace on these beautifully written pages."
—LIBRARY JOURNAL (starred review)
"Bailey's moving testament of resilience is sure to satisfy readers of nature writing and autobiography alike. Fans of Terry Tempest Williams and Robin Wall Kimmerer should take note."
"Bailey's evocative, candid memoir explores spirituality, heritage, and the lives and landscapes we choose to inhabit. Offering hope to disenfranchised LGBTQ+ youth through its testament of self-acceptance and recovery, When I Was Red Clay also stresses the need to find new and 'open-armed communities' when old worlds are no longer sustainable."
“When I Was Red Clay is an homage to the western desert country, a place that can be ‘unimaginably bewitching.’ I haven’t read something so beautiful in a long time. I can’t stop thinking about it.”