Pulitzer Finalist Joins UM as Kittredge Visiting Writer

A picture of Sierra Crane Murdoch
Sierra Crane Murdoch

MISSOULA – The author Sierra Crane Murdoch, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, will serve as the 2023 Kittredge Distinguished Visiting Writer in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana.

Her nonfiction book, “Yellow Bird,” chronicles a murder during the oil boom on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Part true crime, part social criticism, the book traces the steps of an Arikara woman, Lissa Yellow Bird, as she searches for a young, white oil worker who went missing. Named one of the best books of 2020 by The New York Times and NPR, it also was nominated for the Edgar Award, won an Oregon Book Award and is being developed as a TV series for Paramount+.

“Murdoch is pushing the boundaries of environmental writing in all the right ways,” said Mark Sundeen, a UM assistant professor of Environmental Studies. “By weaving a murder mystery into a story of ecological degradation and centuries of broken treaties and genocide against indigenous people, she is educating a whole new swath of readers about our society’s most pressing concerns.”

Murdoch, of Hood River, Oregon, researched the book for eight years, beginning with her first reporting job just out of college, covering the fracking industry on the reservation for High Country News. Her journalism and essays have appeared in Harper’s, The Atlantic, “This American Life” and The New Yorker online.

“What she brings to our graduate students is the rare ability to distill profound truths about history and humanity into page-turning readable prose,” said Sundeen.

Murdoch will teach a graduate workshop in environmental writing in spring semester of 2023.

“I’m honored to serve in a position previously held by writers who had such a profound influence on my own early career,” she said. “I’ll guide students in how to use reporting in personal writing to generate depth and expansiveness and to clarify their voices, discovering more honest and transparent positions in the stories they choose to tell.” 

Previous Kittredge Distinguished Visiting Writers in Environmental Studies include Terry Tempest Williams, Rebecca Solnit, Craig Childs, and most recently, Latria Graham.

Graduate students interested in taking the course should email mark.sundeen@umontana.edu.


Contact: Mark Sundeen, UM Environmental Studies assistant professor, 406-243-6272, mark.sundeen@mso.umt.edu.