Campus Life

Utah State University Professor Steven R. Simms wins Utah Book Award

Utah State University archaeologist Steven R. Simms won the 2010 Utah Book Award for nonfiction this month for Traces of Fremont: Society and Rock Art in Ancient Utah. The book explores new theories of the Fremont — an indigenous group who lived along the Fremont River in Utah from 300 to 1300 A.D. — using artifacts they left behind.

“The book is serendipitous for me,” Simms said. “I was approached [by editors of the University of Utah Press] with a spiral bound notebook of beautiful color photos and a rough text. I held onto it for about two weeks and saw an opportunity to tell a story.”

Simms, a professor of anthropology, partnered with wildlife photographer Francois Gohier to examine new evidence about the Fremont people that points to greater cultural complexity than previously acknowledged by scholars. In recent decades rock art has gained acceptance among scholars as a way to understand the nature of Fremont society, its religion and worldview.

Simms and Gohier traveled across Utah to investigating artifacts and rock art left behind by this group no longer able to tell its own story.

“The book is not about the rock art — it’s about the people behind the rock art,” Simms said. “We need a different perception of the Fremont. Rock art is an interesting vehicle to open up discussions.”

Audiences have responded positively to the book since it hit bookshelves in 2010. In November, Traces of Fremont was included in the New York Review of Books in a special section on books published by university presses.

“People say it’s beautiful — and that’s because of Francois,” Simms said.

But the praises is also about the story, which Simms is responsible for writing. He was presented with the Society of American Archaeology’s 2011 Public Audience Book Award for bringing information about the Fremont to the masses.

“The lay readers love being carried into the past. They love the humanity of it,” he said.

Simms typically writes for academic audiences and Traces of Fremont was a departure for him. He wanted to write a book that an educated audience could appreciate without having to decipher academic jargon. In the book he suggests that the Fremont are more complex than many anthropologists acknowledge and should be analyzed to include a more ecological view. Scientists are currently investigating this theory.

“The book is somewhat speculative,” he said. “I am trying to use a narrative to introduce something that is scientifically novel. Science can be very conservative and sometimes the best way to approach something new is in a readable form.”

He was rewarded for his approach. Each year, the Utah Humanities Council’s Utah Center for the Book recognizes exceptional achievements by Utah writers and highlights literature with a Utah theme or setting in categories including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and literature for children and young adults. Simms had no idea he was nominated for the nonfiction award until he was notified as a finalist.

“The acknowledgement of professor Simms by writing experts in the states is another testament to the quality of faculty with the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Utah State University,” said Dean John Allen. “Professor Simms has a long history of exceptional scholarship and it is appropriate that he is again recognized for his contribution about issues important to the Mountain West.”

Last year, two USU professors were finalists for the same nonfiction prize. Chris Cokinos, a former English professor at USU, was nominated for his book The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars, and Robert S. McPherson, professor of history at USU-College of Eastern Utah, for Comb Ridge and Its People: The Ethnohistory of a Rock, which took home the award.

“I feel like I am in good company,” Simms said.

Related links:

Contact: Steven R. Simms, (435) 797-1277, s.simms@usu.edu

Writer: Kristen Munson, (435) 797-0267, Kristen.munson@usu.edu

USU professor Steven R. Simms

Steven R. Simms won the Utah Book Award for fiction for 'Traces of Fremont: Society and Rock Art in Ancient Utah.'

book cover for 'Traces of Freemont' by USU faculty member Steve Simms

The award-winning book was a collaboration between Simms and photographer Francois Gohier.

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