News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Submissions open for Waterston writing prize

The High Desert Museum is now accepting submissions for the 2023 Waterston Desert Writing Prize.

The Prize honors outstanding literary nonfiction that illustrates artistic excellence, sensitivity to place, and desert literacy with the desert as both subject and setting. Emerging, mid-career, and established nonfiction writers are invited to apply.

The Museum will award one writer with a $3,000 cash award as part of the Waterston Desert Writing Prize. The Prize also includes a reading and reception at the Museum in Bend on September 14, 2023 and a residency at PLAYA at Summer Lake, an arts and sciences residency campus located in Summer Lake, Oregon that sits on the edge of the Great Basin in Southern Oregon. The tranquil natural setting is a hidden gem for artists to focus on their work.

To learn more about the Waterston Desert Writing Prize and how to submit an entry, visit Submissions will be accepted through May 1.

The guest judge for this year’s Waterston Desert Writing Prize is Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest (Lummi). Her literary debut, “Patriarchy Blues,” was published in 2017. The poetry collection received the American Book Award. Priest holds a Master of Fine Arts from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York and is the Maxine Cushing Gray Distinguished Writers Fellow at the University of Washington. Priest’s most recent book, “Northwest Know-How: Beaches,” is a love letter to 29 of the most beloved beaches in Washington and Oregon. Priest is the first Indigenous poet laureate of the state of Washington.

Inspired by author and poet Ellen Waterston’s love of the High Desert, a region that has been her muse for more than 40 years, the Prize launched in 2014 and annually recognizes the vital role deserts play worldwide in the ecosystem and human narrative.

“The many gifted writers who submit their work expand how we think about deserts,” said Museum Executive Director Dana Whitelaw, Ph.D. “We look forward to how our perspectives will grow this year.”

The mission of the High Desert Museum’s Waterston Desert Writing Prize is to strengthen and support the literary arts and humanities in the High Desert region through recognition of literary excellence in nonfiction writing about desert landscapes, community interaction with the winning authors of the Prize, and presentations and programs that take place in association with the Prize.

In August 2020, the High Desert Museum’s official adoption of the Waterston Desert Writing Prize was announced. Since its inception, the awards ceremony has been hosted by the Museum. The mission and goals of the Prize complement those of the High Desert Museum, emphasizing the importance of protecting deserts and creating important conversations about the issues affecting them.

“The Waterston Desert Writing Prize continues to grow in its fourth year as a High Desert Museum program,” said Ellen Waterston. “The Museum support of the literary arts has helped us reach new audiences.”

The winner of the 2022 Waterston Desert Writing Prize was Caroline Tracey. Her submission, “Salt Lakes,” is a collection of 18 essays providing a queer perspective on climate change in arid environments. Salt lakes make up approximately one third of inland waters globally and provide crucial wildlife habitat. These important bodies of water are shrinking and becoming more saline due to increased evaporation from a warming climate, secondary salinization from irrigation of desert soils, and other factors.


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