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ABOUT STEPHEN GRACE

Brief Bio

Stephen Grace is an award-winning conservationist, educator and writer. He is the author of many books, including Dam Nation: How Water Shaped the West and Will Determine Its Future and Grow: Stories from the Urban Food Movement, winner of the Colorado Book Award for Creative Nonfiction.

Extended Bio

A professional naturalist based in the Pacific Northwest, I work as a science and nature educator, lead tours ranging from birding to tidepooling to rainforest hiking, and participate in seabird and sea mammal research. I spend every moment I can outdoors exploring, learning, and sharing my enthusiasm for the natural world with others.

I am the author of many books on diverse topics, including urban development, historical cartography, sustainable food, and river conservation.

I studied novel writing with Stratis Haviaras, founding editor of Harvard Review while caretaking a house in Boston where the poet T. S. Eliot lived. 

 

After my debut novel, Under Cottonwoods (Lyons Press, 2005), was named a BookSense 76 selection and an Emerging Writers Network “Best of 2004” book, I moved to a trailer park in Wyoming in the wake of the Matthew Shepard murder and developed an outdoor adventure program for youth at risk for drugs and violence while researching another novel.

My first nonfiction book, It Happened in Denver (Globe Pequot Press, 2007), a collection of twenty-five stories that shaped the city, is still in print.  

 

To publish Colorado: Mapping the Centennial State through History: Rare and Unusual Maps from the Library of Congress (Globe Pequot Press, 2010), a book about the historical Cartography of Colorado, I collaborated with Library of Congress curators and Vincent Virga, called “America’s foremost picture editor.” 

To create Colorado Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Centennial State (Globe Pequot Press, 2010) I profiled the usual suspects—Denver Broncos and Rocky Mountain National Park, for example—with photos and essays, but I also sought out unusual entries such as Palisade peaches and the Stanley Hotel. Colorado Icons was named one of the "Year's Best Books" (2010) by Colorado Country Life.

To research Shanghai Life, Love and Infrastructure in China’s City of the Future (Sentient Publications, 2010), a narrative nonfiction book about the human and environmental costs of China’s meteoric rise, I photographed skyscrapers in megacities, interviewed people throughout China, and went trail running in Tibet.

 

​To write Dam Nation: How Water Shaped the West and Will Determine Its Future (Globe Pequot Press, 2012), I followed rivers west of the 100th meridian and charted currents throughout the region’s history. 

I served as a consultant for Patagonia’s award-winning film DamNation (Patagonia, 2014), and I was an associate producer and the screenwriter for The Great Divide (Havey Productions, 2015), a feature-length documentary film about western water conflicts and collaborations that was nominated for an Emmy Award and won a Silver Telly Award. I also authored The Great Divide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), a companion book to the film.

While writing Grow: Stories from the Urban Food Movement (Bangtail Press, 2015) I worked on a repurposed garbage truck in the alleyways of Denver, interviewed dozens of diverse changemakers, and volunteered on a farm in Uganda. Grow won the 2016 Colorado Book Award for Creative Nonfiction.

To write Oil and Water: An Oilman’s Quest to Save the Source of America’s Most Endangered River (UCRA, 2015), I teamed up with an oilman to tell the story of the Upper Colorado River, a resource under siege. 

Both Grow and Oil and Water were included on a High Country News list of “15 books every well-versed Westerner should read.”

Other topics I’ve written about include atomic clocks, philanthropy in Africa, the environmental consequences of using peat moss as a soil amendment, snorkeling with salmon, and paddleboarding with whales. I publish stories and photos regularly in Adventures Northwest.

​My photographs of China and the American West have been featured in three books. My Pacific Northwest nature photography has been widely published, and is included in Salmon, Cedar, Rock and Rain: Washington’s Olympic Peninsula (Braided River Press, 2023).

Nature tours I led at Cannon Beach, Oregon, included people of all abilities and backgrounds, and everyone from kindergartners to college professors. I taught groups ranging from families of three to classes of more than one hundred students. I guided for NPR Science Friday, NOAA Sea Grant, Road Scholar, Allen Institute for Cell Science, Master Naturalists, Native Content Production Company, French American International School, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Portland State University, and Oregon State University Graduate School of Ocean, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences.

In 2016, the Haystack Rock Awareness Program presented me with an Outstanding Service Award for teaching marine biology and intertidal ecology. 

I am now based in Port Townsend, Washington, where I work as a naturalist and science educator aboard historic ships and lead an effort to preserve the Quimper Lost Wilderness, one of the last stands of old-growth rainshadow forest on the Olympic Peninsula. In the spring of 2021, I was honored by the Olympic Peninsula Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society to be named “Amazing Conservation Advocate of the Year.” 

In 2020 and 2021 I led cycling and multisport tours in Alaska and Maine for Grasshopper Adventures. I now lead natural history tours around the world for Naturalist Journeys.   


Although I have many professional interests and wide-ranging pursuits, I think of myself first and foremost as a writer committed to exploring curiosity and compassion through storytelling.

Here’s what others have said about my writing: 

Under Cottonwoods

“In his first novel, Grace writes with a lyrical power, celebrating the healing power of the human spirit set free in the wilds.” 

Los Angeles Times

“ ‘[Stephen Grace’s] experience as a social worker shows up in the book,’ [says Donahue]. So does the writer’s love for fly fishing, which unites the fictional friends for a heart-tugging plot twist.” 

Publishers Weekly

“This is as fine a story about a developing relationship as I’ve ever read. It is their friendship and how they help each other along the way that makes Under Cottonwoods such a beautiful story.”

Jackson Hole News & Guide 

“Under Cottonwoods is a lyrical, honest portrait of friendship, loss, renewal, and redemption and a thoroughly enjoyable, easy read.”

The Telluride Watch  

“This is an amazing first book by a gifted writer. Mr. Grace is a born storyteller. Under Cottonwoods is inspiring without being maudlin, exciting but not contrived. Wilderness areas are beautifully described in well drawn prose other writers may envy.” 

Midwest Book Review

“A humane and hopeful story that will engage both nature lovers and champions of the human spirit.” 

—Wally Lamb, #1 New York Times bestselling author of She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True

Under Cottonwoods is a heartbreaking, funny, and ultimately exhilarating story of the human spirit as embodied in its memorable duet, Mike and Walter. This first novel is so splendidly crafted and realized, it shines.”

—Stratis Haviaras, Founder of Harvard Review

“In Under Cottonwoods, Stephen Grace explores physical and mental healing through friendship, family, and fly-fishing. A heart-felt debut fused with optimism, gentle lyricism, and hope.”

—C. J. Box, bestselling author of Winterkill, Savage Run, and Open Season 

Under Cottonwoods is the reason people still read.”

—Tim Sandlin, author of Honey Don’t, Sorrow Floats, and Skipped Parts 


Under Cottonwoods is a stirring account of the healing transformations possible in the lives of broken men. Every page invites us deeper into the dark and wondrous wilderness of the heart.”

—Kevin McIlvoy, author of Hyssop, Little Peg, and The Fifth Station 

Under Cottonwoods is as shimmering and hearty as trees on a riverbank. Stephen Grace’s compassion for his characters and his intuition about the outdoors recall the best of Thomas McGuane and Jim Harrison.”

—Alyson Hagy, author of Keeneland, Graveyard of the Atlantic, Madonna on Her Back, and Hardware River 

“A mix of talent and compassion surprising in an author just at the beginning of what is sure to be a distinguished career as a novelist.”

—William Meredith and Richard Harteis, editors of Window on the Black Sea: Bulgarian Poetry in Translation 

“With strong big-hearted prose, Stephen Grace charts the mysterious waters of an unlikely friendship between two damaged and yet optimistic men who lean, carry and challenge each other to heal and forgive. Under Cottonwoods is that rare novel that manages to be both generous and wise without condescension or syrupy sermons.” 

—Elwood Reid, Peabody Award-winning television producer of The Bridge and author of If I Don’t Six, Midnight Sun, and D.B.
 

It Happened in Denver

“By the evidence of this excitement-packed narrative history, Denver has been simply bubbling with major events.” 

—Barnes & Noble

“You’ll never see the city in the same way again.” 

—“Between the Covers,” Tattered Cover Book Blog


 

Colorado: Mapping the Centennial State through History: Rare and Unusual Maps from the Library of Congress

“An excellent and unique addition to the vast library of works on Colorado history.” 

—Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library

Colorado Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Centennial State By Stephen Grace 

 

—Named one of the "Year's Best Books" (2010) by Colorado Country Life

Everyone knows about Colorado’s mountains, ski resorts and national parks. But did you know that Crocs and the cheeseburger were invented in the Centennial State? Or that Colorado is famous for its peaches, corn and sugar beets?

Whether you are a born-and-raised local or a new resident, Colorado Icons will open your eyes to things you never knew about this beautiful corner of the country. From the story behind the choosing of the state flower to the store selling western wear that is displayed in the Smithsonian, fun facts and neat history abound in this interesting book.

Perfect as a coffee-table book...

Colorado Country Life


 

Shanghai: Life, Love and Infrastructure in China’s City of the Future

“Stephen Grace has a love affair with Shanghai, and he portrays it wonderfully.” 

—Mel Gurtov, Editor-in-Chief, Asian Perspective

“Grace understands his place in the story and his are the novelist’s sensibilities; his observations and scenes are in turn horrifying and hilarious.” 

—Jon Billman, author of When We Were Wolves and The Cold Vanish 

“Fascinating, funny, and frightening.” 

—Tim Sandlin, author of New York Times Notable Book Skipped Parts

“Communism has become a guideline in China, not the rule. Shanghai: Life, Love, and Infrastructure in China’s City of the Future looks at the development of the city of Shanghai, a bustling city that has become quite the economic center and symbol for change in China. An economic, cultural, and social analysis, Shanghai is an interesting case study for the world. Shanghai is a top pick for any international studies collection.” 

Midwest Book Review


 

Dam Nation: How Water Shaped the West and Will Determine Its Future

“Grace acts as both poet of Western wilderness and a knowledgeable translator of water policy.”

High Country News

“Grace…effectively, even humorously at times, captures the highlights of the West’s liquid history.” 

Kirkus Reviews

“Grace covers an ambitious amount of material, yet manages to draw in the reader with colorful and engaging stories that reveal a deep connection with the subject.” 

University of Denver Water Law Review

“The words ‘lyrical prose’ and ‘water policy’ seldom are written in the same sentence, but author Stephen Grace has melded the two in his new book, Dam Nation.” 

Steamboat Today

“No one reading this book will ever look at a glass of water the same way again—especially if they live in the West…. Stephen Grace presents an engaging, easily palatable crash-course in the complex history of water in the West. 

ForeWord Reviews

Grow: Stories from the Urban Food Movement

—Winner of the 2016 Colorado Book Award for Creative Nonfiction

Grow is gorgeously written and a true pleasure to read. Grace is a lovely writer and here he puts his mastery to the highest purpose—changing the way we live so that we can take care of our planet.” 

—Helen Thorpe, author of Just Like Us and Soldier Girls
 

“If you are a person who eats food, this is a book you need to read. Stephen Grace has written with passion, wisdom, and—yes—grace about the backstory of the food on our plates, and about the people in Denver who are working to bring that story closer to home. Ultimately, Grow opens the possibility that simply asking about the story of our food can be a catalyst for saving us from ourselves, and that’s a story we need to hear.” 

—Nick Arvin, author of The Reconstructionist and Articles of War
 
“A captivating and original book. While it offers a serious look into the urban food movement, the stories here are funny, inspiring, and, above all else, offer unique and do-able solutions. Grow is the rarest of gems: Grace gives us the stories of those on-the-ground and in-the-dirt and thereby gives us all hope and know-how. I absolutely loved this book. A must-read—for everyone.” 

—Laura Pritchett, editor of Going Green and author of Stars Go Blue
 
“In Grow, Stephen Grace serves up generous helpings of nutrient-dense stories of farmers and farming in the gritty urban tangle of a sprawling metropolis, revealing a hidden revolution with the power to quietly heal lives and communities. Drawn by a common urge to rebuild food security and sovereignty, the unsung pioneers that Grace discovers arise from broken communities to forge a regenerative local economy that is steadily and unexpectedly transforming fractured landscapes. The book emerged from Grace's attempt to find the bounty available in his own backyard (“so many tasty foods, so many fascinating people”). As writing it did for the author, reading Grow fires our imagination, inspires hope, and compels us to join the local food revolution and experience the joys of ‘living deeply’ in our cities.” 

—Michael Brownlee, Publisher of Local Food Shift Magazine 
 
“This book is full of gems mined from the . . . wait a minute: Can a book about urban farming have gems and mining? Oh, yes, and Stephen Grace shows us how. One of my favorites is, ‘Beware the everyday brutality of the averted gaze,’ from the folks at SAME Café, where diners pay what they can afford. This book is the opposite of an averted gaze. It is a highly engaged and engaging conversation, a compassionate conversation, with the foragers, restaurateurs, vintners, waste farmers and community gardeners who are building the soil of a restorative economy.” 

—Woody Tasch, Founder and Chairman of Slow Money 
 
“Years from now, people will read this book by Stephen Grace and think, ‘That's how we did it! That's how people in cities figured out how to feed themselves instead of relying on food trucked in from thousands of miles away!’ In Grow: Stories from the Urban Food Movement, Grace introduces us to the intrepid visionaries in Denver who are wielding the nuts and bolts of this transition. His book shows the obstacles, certainly, but also the hope that drives this movement, as well as suggesting ways the reader can participate.”

—Kristin Ohlson, author of The Soil Will Save Us

“[Grow] is one of those rare books that covers an important, but unsung, movement in a compelling, poignant and deeply human way.”

Big Sky Journal

Oil and Water: An Oilman's Quest to Save the Source of America's Most Endangered River

“Who is killing the Colorado River? In this environmental detective story, Stephen Grace points fingers and names names, but, best of all, he finds some hope and possible solutions.” 

—Mark Obmascik, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author of The Big Year and Halfway to Heaven, winner of the National Outdoor Book Award

“An oilman who’s also a conservationist? Who knew?! But that describes Bud Isaacs, the inspiration behind this book, and it's his energy and expertise that might save the West’s critical upper Colorado River.” 

—Greg Dobbs, Emmy Award-winning TV network journalist

“A great read about the struggle to preserve a precious piece of the nation’s natural heritage and the difference one concerned and very determined citizen can make. Although the story focuses on the headwaters of the Colorado River, it also offers valuable lessons for how diverse interests can, eventually, come together to solve water disputes throughout the American West.” 

—Fritz Holleman, Former Deputy Solicitor for Water Resources, U.S. Department of the Interior

“Most of us don't think much about it when we turn on the tap to get a glass of water. In this terrific story, Stephen Grace shows us some of the complex issues and fascinating characters that are behind every drop we drink in Colorado and the West.” 

—Anders Halverson, National Outdoor Book Award-winning author of An Entirely Synthetic Fish

“In Oil and Water, Stephen Grace gives voice to an unlikely cast of characters whose words weave a compelling tale of the death and potential rebirth of one of America's iconic rivers, the Upper Colorado. With the grand sweep of a James Michener novel, the clear-eyed reporting of John McPhee’s work, and Grace’s own personal insights, Oil and Water deserves a place with the classics of environmental literature.” 

—Susan J. Tweit, Award-winning author of Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey

“At its root, conservation is about people. In a conversational and easy-to-read style, Stephen Grace shows us in Oil and Water how one man can make a big difference in helping to protect the lands and waters that sustain us all.” 

—Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited


“Stephen Grace’s Oil and Water is the best education outreach tool we’ve had in the fight to save the Upper Colorado River.” 

—Kirk Klancke, President of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited


The Great Divide

“Trust Stephen Grace to write about complex matters with clarity, fairness, and (there is no avoiding the word!) grace, and, at the same time, prepare to benefit from remarkable, thought-provoking photographs.” 

—Patty Limerick, MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, author of The Legacy of Conquest, and Faculty Director and Board Chair, Center of the American West

“A fluid, eloquent, painstakingly researched and deeply intelligent rendition of one of the most complex and far-reaching subjects in the West.”

—Kevin Fedarko, National Outdoor Book Award-winning author of The Emerald Mile

The Great Divide is the most beautiful and best book on Colorado water I’ve ever read.” 

—Tom Cech, Director, One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship

“Water is the lifeblood of Colorado, and Stephen Grace tells its story with clear vision and compelling prose.” 

—David Nickum, Executive Director, Colorado Trout Unlimited

“A powerful journey with evocative visuals through the history and current state of affairs of western water: highlighting how we use it, cherish it, and abuse it. A must read for any Westerner.” 

—Pete McBride, Author, Filmmaker and Photographer, National Geographic

“A must read for anyone interested in the history and future of water in Colorado.” 

—Ken Salazar, Former US Senator from Colorado, Former US Secretary of the Interior

“Grace possesses deep insight and a strong sense of place; this presentation, coupled with [Jim] Havey’s remarkable photos and occasional archival images, is exceptional.” 

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

 

A story I published during the pandemic:

Birding in a Time of Plague

A podcast I recorded about puffins:

Nature Now

An essay honoring one of my conservation mentors: Remembering Jerry Gorsline

A story about cold-water snorkeling:

The Immersion

A story about backpacking with COVID:

Fever at the Ocean's Edge

A story about paddleboarding with whales:

Mercy of Giants

Bilingual Birding: Connecting to History, Culture and Conservation in Scotland 

                                                     

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