Tessa E. Hulls

Awarded 2019

As the mixed-race daughter of two first-generation immigrants who landed in a town of 350 people, I was born without a homeland to belong to. My family didn’t have TV and the internet didn’t exist, so I grew up with no models of how I fit within American culture but there was a tiny library, and its two rooms set me free. I spent my formative years hiking alone through the hills with a backpack full of books, and this fusion of research, narrative, and solo wilderness exploration remain the foundations of both my personal life and my extremely multidisciplinary creative practice.

The silence of the backcountry taught me to build myself around central questions: What does it mean to belong to a place? How are we accountable to our histories? What does it mean to be a strong woman? How do we find our way Home?

Washington has been my home since 2008, but I lead a semi-nomadic life that has included eight years of seasonal work in remote stretches of Antarctica and Alaska, and over 10,000 miles of solo long distance bicycle travel across the continental US and parts of Alaska, Ghana, Mexico, and Cuba. I’m fascinated by extreme isolation and am the current recipient of the PEN NW Wilderness Writing Residency, which involves six months alone on 94 acres without cell service or internet and requires bringing a chainsaw for the two-hour drive to town in case I have to clear fallen trees from the road.

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