Élan Young writes about a range of subjects including arts & culture, disability, the environment, and politics. By day, she covers research in civil & environmental engineering and nuclear engineering at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her freelance endeavors have led her to interview luminaries and dignitaries such as the first Native American Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, as well as the Democratic Senator from Illinois, Tammy Duckworth. Her work has has appeared in Smithsonian, HuffPost, Sojourners, 3:AM Magazine, Amplitude Magazine, Knoxville Mercury, and more.
In 2019, Élan broke a story in HuffPost entitled “Coal Knew, Too” detailing that the coal industry knew about the catastrophic effects of climate change as early as 1966. This was an archival discovery made by one of her colleagues in the civil and environmental engineering department at UT. That story garnered worldwide attention, sparked a documentary, multiple podcasts and spinoff pieces, and earned her nominations for the George Polk Award and the John B. Oakes Award in journalism.
Élan has also received a Golden Press Card Award from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists for her contribution to coverage of the East Tennessee wildfires of 2016, with her cover story in Knoxville Mercury entitled “Fire on the Mountain.”
It’s through writing that Élan has found a way to weave in her multiple interests. She holds a BA in public policy (race, gender & environment) from UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as an MFA in creative writing (poetry) from UNC-Greensboro, and remains deeply interested and invested in community organizing and intersectionality. Additionally, she is a passionate climate justice activist and supporter of the youth climate movement.
On August 15, 2020, Élan finished hiking all the trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where she took her first backpack trip in 2001. Despite finishing the map, she will never stop rambling in the mountains. She reflected on some of the experience in a blog post and video, and she is currently working on a collection of essays about the experience.
Élan also dabbles in metalsmithing and operates a jewelry side hustle called Copper Fire. She loves living in the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the Little River Watershed with her husband and son.