Interview w/ The Kitchen Sisters
Katie Lee
The Kitchen Sisters talk about “Cry Me a River” and the stories of three river guides who try—and fail—to stop the damming of their rivers.


The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva.
The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva.


The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva) produce the NPR series Hidden Kitchens, which explores how communities come together through food. As California residents, they’ve been “watching every year the encroachment and development of the west.” In their two-part radio documentary “Cry Me a River,” produced with Martha Ham, they visit the West we lost through the stories of three river guides who try—and fail—to stop the damming of their rivers.

A Conversation w/ The Kitchen Sisters

Ken and Katie Lee and Mark DuBois are such great characters. What drew you to them?

Nikki Silva: I think for me, it’s always trying to find a way of looking at the history of a movement and bring it to life in a way that helps people see that it’s a building block situation, or that the environmental movement didn’t spring out of nowhere, it isn’t just hip because it’s suddenly hip.

Davia Nelson: You know, there are policy people and official environmentalists and then there are these eccentric individuals with great stories to tell who inspire. It’s almost like going back to the ancient tradition of the storyteller in the village. Storytelling is something as primal as food, as basic as dirt, and so to be part of a series called Stories from the Heart of the Land is wonderful. It’s like radio is our campfire.

Katie Lee. (Photo courtesy of Tad Nichols Collection/NAU-Cline Library)

Is it true that Katie Lee won’t go back to the Grand Canyon?

DN: Katie called me the other day high as a kite—she had just rafted Cataract Canyon, at eighty-eight years old, and she was just exhilarated. So she has stayed on rivers all her life. But Glen Canyon leads into the Grand Canyon, and because that river is dammed… It was a silty brown river, warm and sinuous, and now it is regulated, cold cold blue, completely transformed, and she feels like the river is so Disney-fied that she will not go on it. It’s as if she’s sanctioning it by going there, and she will not sanction that.

She sounds like a great woman.

DN: She is. And she is… She is not a nice girl. Katie Lee is NOT NICE. She’s just straightforward. She wants that dam decommissioned and she wants Lake Powell drained and she wants to restore the Grand Canyon and she doesn’t see why that’s not possible and neither does Ken Sleight and neither does Mark DuBois. To them that’s just as reasonable as anything

Ken Sleight and Katie Lee are both in their eighties. Do you think they have hope that they’ll see the river again?

DN: They are the most hope-filled people you’ll ever meet in your life, absolutely. They just don’t think for a second that this isn’t going to happen. They put us to shame.

Davia Nelson, who is herself an avid river rafter, spoke to us from the Kitchen Sisters’ San Francisco office. Nikki Silva phoned in from her backyard overlooking Monterey Bay where, she says, “a Red-tail just flew by.”

The Stories

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