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Betsy James

Betsy James talks with supporters and signs copies of her newest book at Bookworks on Wednesday, May 31 2023.

UNM professor publishes homegrown nonfiction novel

After writing primarily fiction novels and children’s books, Betsy James – University of New Mexico professor, author, and illustrator – released her nonfiction book, “Breathing Stone: Living Small in a Southwest Village” on May 30, 2023. 

“This book is kind of a departure for me because I’ve always written fiction,” James said. “My departure to nonfiction started from a very writerly practice … Sometimes I say ‘I write like ducks quack.’ Writing is very second nature to me.” 

The release party was held at Bookworks on May 31. At the event, James described her journey towards writing her newest work after 17 priorly published books. Breathing Stone was inspired by keeping journals throughout her writing career, or as she likes to call them, “day-books.” 

“The term ‘journal’ makes me nervous. … It’s laden with guilt. … It’s like, ‘I promised myself I would write in this everyday.’ … So throw out the word ‘journal.’ I use the term ‘day-book,’” James said. 

Her documentation in day-books during the early ‘90s was integral to her novel when James said she had rented part of a house in the center of the old village in Placitas. While learning about the vast Native American history in the area along withher experiences in nature, James said she felt inclined to be present with her surroundings. 

“It’s formatted to look like a little field journal, so very short entries arranged by season. … And containing many of the offhand, casual drawings that I did, and occasional poetry,” James said. 

Shannon Guinn-Collins, new co-owner of Bookworks, shared that the store has had long-lasting ties with James. 

“We’ve been friends with Betsy for a really, really long time,” Guin-Collins said. “I’ve known her since I was a teenager, so it’s especially exciting to welcome her back into the store.”

Co-owner, Nancy Guinn, loves the fact that the community gets to speak with local authors.

“It brings in people who aren’t aware of the store,” Guinn said. “Betsy had a whole email list of friends, students, and supporters that she invited to the release.”  

Guinn hopes that the events for local authors at Bookworks will provide support and a platform for Albuquerque novelists, she said. 

James said she hopes to leave a mark with her homegrown stories. An influential friendship that she said helped define her writing career was with late Santa Fe filmmaker, Carroll Williams. James said he told her to “always leave tracks.” 

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“Because life is like a river and it passes, it passes, and it’s gone. We forget what we have seen and what we have done. So for him, it was filmmaking. And for me, it was always writing and, to a certain extent, drawing and sketching,” James said.

Several former students of James were in the audience. James’s class is offered to undergraduates in the UNM Honors College – all of whom come from different departments, which is something she said she loves. 

“They enrich me,” James said. 

Her love for teaching, James said, comes from the relatability of her students as well as her compassion for them. 

“(I learn) a lot about my 20 year-old self … To be in your early twenties is often the hardest time of your life ‘cause you’re unmoored from your childhood – you’re peddling madly, trying to figure out how to become an adult.”

Making her students feel seen and being privy to their writing is a privilege, James said. 

According to James, each entries in  her book is personal and organic, and the front cover displays her own art as well. James said that she hopes her readers and students will see her book and know that it’s the type of project they can take on as well. 

“Find some way to leave tracks, and feel that (you’re) worthy to leave tracks,” James said.

Kelsa Mendoza is the copy editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at, or on Twitter @kelsar4in. 

Kelsa Mendoza

 Kelsa Mendoza is the copy editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached atcopychief@dailylobo.comor on Twitter at @kelsar4in.

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