Lesley Poling-Kempes

Selected Works

The true story of remarkable women who left the security and comforts of genteel Victorian society and journeyed into the rugged outback of the American Southwest in search of a wider view of themselves and their world.
“In the exquisite novel BONE HORSES Lesley Poling-Kempes grandly creates the landscape of New Mexico as a living character – vital, enduring and full of magic. As the geography of the American Southwest comes alive on the pages, the geography of the heart is revealed to be far more than muscle and bone. This is a story of what truly knits us together – family, history, enduring friendships - served up in luminous language and unforgettable story-telling.” Mary E. Mitchell PEN Award-winning author
"Canyon of Remembering is a memorable and exceptionally well crafted novel." -- The Midwest Book Review
“A writer’s acute, compelling history of one of America’s more endangered landscapes. Digging deeply into the history of a place, Poling-Kempes mines a rich vein of lore and myth.” Kirkus Reviews
The definitive work about the Harvey Girls, Harvey Houses, and the Santa Fe Railway. Recently optioned by Atalaya Productions for a television series.
“Poling-Kempes is a skillful writer, smoothly dovetailing the human stories that make up the narrative of this pristine, peaceful, and appealing place. The author flat out knows how to tell a good story.” Richard Etulain
"In her meticulous account, Lesley Poling-Kempes discusses the geophysical origins of this land of 'extremes and contrast,' analyzing the layered stone formations and matching them up with O'Keeffe's keen observations of red shales, sandshales and silt stones created 200 million years ago. . ." – Dore Ashton, Times Literary Supplement

LADIES OF THE CANYONS 2015 Reading the West Book Award for Nonfiction

Southwest Book Award

"Ladies of the Canyons" 2016 Spur Award finalist

LADIES OF THE CANYONS 2016 WILLA Literary Award for Scholarly Nonfiction

2016 IPPY Awards, US History

"Part Willa Cather, part Thelma and Louise, here is a story of heroines, of mischief-makers and epic-builders, told by a writer who knows and loves the grand landscapes on which these larger-than-life women left their indelible mark."
—Hampton Sides

Winner, Tony Hillerman Award for Best Fiction, 2013

"Taut with a marked unease bubbling beneath its small-village surface, "Bone Horses" delivers a rich, complex family mystery that is finally solved by the heartbroken loved ones of those who left too soon. It offers fiction lovers another densely layered and satisfying New Mexico adventure." Candelora Versace, New Mexico Magazine

“…an exquisitely beautiful and haunting read, which tells a moving story of love, murder, and redemption. "Bone Horses" is a novel of large ambitions and sweep, with vivid characters and big American themes, written in crisp, sculptured prose. I highly recommend the novel for anyone who loves the landscapes and people of New Mexico.”
--Douglas Preston, New York Times #1 Bestselling author of "Two Graves" and "The Monster of Florence"

WWA Spur Award finalist "Canyon of Remembering" is now available as an eBook and is free to borrow for Kindle Prime users

Quick Links

Welcome to the website of author Lesley Poling-Kempes

It gives me great pleasure to speak with readers and historians about the women chronicled in my new book "Ladies of the Canyons: A League of Extraordinary Women and Their Adventures in the American Southwest." The book was an adventure to research and write, and it is a privilege to bring to light the remarkable stories of women who a century ago loved and lived upon the same landscape I call home.

The Museums at Ghost Ranch have opened an exhibit devoted to the remarkable lives of Carol Bishop Stanley (Ghost Ranch founder) and her friends. Photographs, letters, clothing, furniture, maps and other historic items bring the stories of the Ladies of the Canyons to life. Visit this exhibit at beautiful Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu throughout 2017.

My love affair with the high desert of Abiquiu and northern New Mexico began when I first came to Ghost Ranch on a family vacation as a child in the 1960s. Like my "Bone Horses" protagonist, Charlotte, I was born and raised in New York, specifically in Westchester County. Unlike Charlotte, I loved the wild vast empty desert and wide blue sky of the Southwest on sight. I was always working my way back home to this exotic, magnificent place. After college I moved full time into the Indio-Hispanic world of Abiquiu. I began to write the real and imagined stories of my adopted community.

For several decades my primary work was as a writer/​historian. For my first 3 books ("The Harvey Girls," "Valley of Shining Stone," and "Ghost Ranch") I interviewed and talked with literally hundreds of old-timers all over the Southwest. I heard remarkable tales of the early days in New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona.

I am currently working on a sequel to my novel "Bone Horses," and with my co-writer Robert N. Singer have completed "Gallup" an historical novel set in WWII New Mexico.

Lesley’s work has won the Reading the West Book Award, the Southwest Book Award, the WILLA Award for both Scholarly Nonfiction and Contemporary Fiction, the Tony Hillerman Award for Fiction, and has twice been WWA Spur Award finalists. Her book about the Harvey Girls and the Santa Fe Railway, based on seventy-six interviews Lesley conducted in the early 1980s, is considered the definitive work on the subject and era in women’s history. The Harvey Girls was given the Zia Award for Excellence from the New Mexico Press Women.

Lesley's work is represented by Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli and JET Literary Associates, Inc.

Lesley is a member of the New Mexico Humanities Council Speaker Bureau. To schedule an event visit the NMHC website.

The stories of the Ladies of the Canyons now featured in an exhibit at the Museums of Ghost Ranch