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About

Phyllis Barber, a native of Nevada and now a resident of Park City, Utah, writes about the West, the desert, the Mormons who played a significant role in settling the West and creating the person she's become, and about matters of the spirit with its familiar and unfamiliar reaches. She's dedicated to a face-to-face writing style inspired by her commitment to being honestly alive, by accepting the reality of "what is," and by speaking her truth as she understands it. A risk-taking writer, she writes frankly and unblinkingly about the jagged, unpredictable edges of things. She is also a consummate artist with the written word.

For over thirty-five years, she's been writing award-winning stories, articles, essays, and novels, in addition to  being the mother of four sons, teaching fiction and creative nonfiction in the MFA in Writing Program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts (from which she recently retired), riding her bicycle 1,000 miles across the Midwest one summer, traveling the world, reading across a wide spectrum of books, serving as a community volunteer, playing the piano professionally, and accompanying a diverse variety of musicians. In 2005, she was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. She is currently refining her latest novel, ADABABA AND THE THIRD WIFE.

Her last published book and third in a trilogy of memoir, TO THE MOUNTAIN: ONE MORMON WOMAN'S SEARCH FOR SPIRIT, was brought out by Quest Books in 2014. Two of the essays appeared in BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS (2010 and 2011) and one in BEST AMERICAN TRAVEL WRITING, 2011. 

RAW EDGES: A MEMOIR, the second in the trilogy of memoir, was released by the University of Nevada Press in March of 2010, and was listed as one of the Outstanding University Press Books of 2010 by Foreword Reviews' print magazine. Her hope is that the book will be useful to those who've traveled the sometimes difficult path through marriage, divorce, and coming to terms with one's unexpected self.

The first in the trilogy, HOW I GOT CULTURED: A NEVADA MEMOIR, won the Associated Writing Program (AWP) Award for Creative Nonfiction in 1991 and the Award for Best Nonfiction from the Association for Mormon Letters in 1993. It is about growing up Mormon in Las Vegas and all of the attendant complications provided by such a wide contrast in cultures. All three books are available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com or can be ordered through a favorite bookstore.

She was born in the Rose de Lima Hospital in Basic Townsite, Nevada (later known as Henderson) because the hospital had been closed in Boulder City. Her parents were Herman and Thora Nelson. Her only given name was Phyllis Nelson. Her mother said that middle names made life too complicated, though Phyllis "is a name I’ve never cottoned up to, to tell you the truth. I do like what it means: 'a green bough' or 'any pretty country maiden.' Not bad, though I would have preferred Elizabeth or Anne."

Her family lived in Boulder City, Nevada, on the edge of the desert until she was eleven years old. Then the family moved to another edge of the desert, this time in Las Vegas. The shift from a government town (which was built to build Hoover Dam) and a high sense of order (Boulder City was still a Federal Reservation in 1954), jarred her sense of safety and felt more like a move into the windblown chaos of an alien world.

Attending Las Vegas High School, she won a position as a Las Vegas Rhythmette (a big-time thing for the girls of that day and age), played the piano for school assemblies and at a classical ballet studio, then attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where she met David Barber at the end of her sophomore year. They were married a year later in 1964 and moved to Palo Alto, California, where he attended Stanford Law School. After working at the Stanford Development Office for a year, she attended San Jose State College (before it became a university) and completed a degree in music with a piano emphasis and a minor in political science.

After deciding that becoming a serious concert pianist was not a viable route for her (after giving birth to four sons), she turned to writing at age 32. It seemed she had no choice other than to follow the demands of her strong creative impulses in one field or another. She wrote for UTAH HOLIDAY magazine in Salt Lake City, Utah, for ten years, took creative writing classes at the University of Utah, then received an MFA in Writing Degree at Vermont College in 1984.

Her first book was commissioned in 1980 by a small publishing firm in Provo, Utah, which was looking for easy readers for juvenile readers. With this acceptance, she was definitely bitten by the possibility of becoming a “real” writer. And following this desire, writing, in both the imaginative and literal sense, became the way she used to explain herself to herself and make sense of the twists and turns in the path of her life.

Phyllis and David Barber divorced in 1997 (yet still remain good friends), and she married Bill Traeger in 2000. After another divorce in 2002, she remarried Traeger in 2010.They now live in Park City, Utah.

Will Rogers said something to the effect that one can only fully appreciate the day when one has seen the sunset. "Though I’m not riding into the sunset just yet, I do understand what he meant," says Phyllis. "I value this life so much more since I've gotten older and have come to a place of gratitude for my own particular journey. It's a sacred thing."