Riley Black has loved fossils since she was a hatchling. She's written more than ten books on paleontology, including Written in Stone, My Beloved Brontosaurus, and The Last Days of the Dinosaurs. Her musings about deep time have appeared in a variety of publications—from Nature and Science to Slate and National Geographic—and she spends weeks each summer searching for new fossils with museum crews across the Southwest. When not obsessing over dinosaurs, she can usually be found doting on her German shepherd and three cats.
In what ways does nature inspire or inform your work?
Writing about natural history is a delicate dance. I’m as stuck in my own head as any other writer, trying to understand and express the borderless wonder of time, space, and life while sitting at a desk. That challenge keeps me going back to the page. I know I can’t fully encompass what’s both beautiful and puzzling about nature, but I can act as a prism to help share some of what I see. The whole act is one of resonance, sharing thought and feeling about all that’s around us.
What does it mean to you to be part of a thriving ecosystem?
There’s a specific term I picked up from ecologists, “disaster taxon.” These are organisms that survive through awful events and help rebuild ecosystems in the aftermath, like ferns that take root after a fire. These are the living things I take my inspiration from, the ones that can grow in the shade, that can meet catastrophe with new growth, that can kickstart change that tragedy cut off. Thriving doesn’t require perfection or stability. In moments of the most intense adversity—ecologically or societally or personally—that it when we learn to truly thrive.