Press Release – Acclaimed Authors Featured in 2023 Waterston Desert Writing Prize Ceremony

Tuesday, August 15, 2023
Contact: Heidi Hagemeier, director of communications and visitor experience, 541-382-4754 ext. 166,

Acclaimed Authors Featured in 2023 Waterston Desert Writing Prize Ceremony

Anna Welch Announced as Winner of 2023 Award

BEND, OR — How can or can’t species adapt to the effects of climate change? For decades, Thor Hanson, Ph.D. ( — respected biologist, author, Guggenheim Fellow and Switzer Environmental Fellow — has travelled the world, written several books and won the renowned John Burroughs Medal in pursuit of answers to this pressing question.

As the keynote speaker at this year’s Waterston Desert Writing Prize Ceremony, Hanson will speak on this all-too-relevant topic, and later, participate in a book signing alongside decorated writer and this year’s guest judge Rena Priest ( and the 2023 award winner Anna Welch ( The Prize ceremony will take place on Thursday, September 14 at the High Desert Museum.

The Waterston Desert Writing Prize honors a writer who uses the desert as both subject and setting and illustrates artistic excellence, sensitivity to place, and desert literacy. The winner — emerging, mid-career or established — must also be in the process of completing a book-length manuscript focused on any desert region.

The evening will open with the presentation of the 2023 Waterston Prize to Anna Welch by guest judge Rena Priest, which includes a $3,000 award and residency at PLAYA at Summer Lake, an arts and sciences campus located in South-Central Oregon.

“Thanks to Rena Priest’s thoughtful judging, we have the opportunity to recognize an intrepid and talented new desert writer in Anna Welch,” said Prize founder Ellen Waterston. “Now in its ninth year, the growing numbers of winners and finalists of the Waterston Desert Writing Prize distinguish the mission of the Prize and individually do creative justice to desert literature.”

Readings by Welch and Priest will be followed with Hanson closing out the evening.

“We are honored to have these incredible writers join us at this year’s Waterston Desert Writing Prize,” said Museum Executive Director Dana Whitelaw, Ph.D. “Thor Hanson’s extensive research on climate and climate change make for deep storytelling about this iconic desert place — all of which fits into the Prize’s aim to elevate desert landscapes through literary nonfiction.

“Rena Priest’s most recent book Northwest Know-How: Beaches, which includes poems, retellings of legends and descriptions of 29 of the most beloved beaches in the Pacific Northwest, will undoubtedly inspire and spark discussion,” Whitelaw continued. “And every year brings a new desert writer to this distinguished group—Anna Welch’s work will be a wonderful addition to this year’s program. We’re so pleased to welcome them all.”

Welch will read from her winning submission, “Momentum: A Trans-Continental Bicycle Journey,” which details her 2019 adventure 3,700 miles across the continental United States. During that substantial bicycling trip, Welch encountered her first desert, an experience she eloquently expands upon within her winning text.

Welch holds a degree in English Literature from the University of Otago and currently plants trees and surveys wildlife. Her work has been published in Wilderness Magazine and was most recently featured in the anthology True Travel Tales by Fine Line Press. She is originally from New Zealand and currently resides in Scotland.

Priest, an enrolled member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, served as the first Native American Poet Laureate in Washington state. Her debut collection, Patriarchy Blues, earned an American Book Award. Later in her career, Priest was named the 2022 Maxine Cushing Gray Distinguished Writing Fellow.

Hanson is the author of Buzz, The Triumph of Seeds, Feathers and The Impenetrable Forest, as well as the illustrated children’s favorite, Bartholomew Quill. Honors for his books have included the John Burroughs Medal, The Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, The AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize, and three Pacific Northwest Book Awards. His writing has been translated into more than 10 languages.

The award was initially inspired by author and poet Waterston’s love of the High Desert, a region that has been her muse for more than 30 years. The Prize recognizes the vital role deserts play worldwide in the ecosystem and human narrative.

In 2020, the High Desert Museum—which has long hosted events for the Prize—adopted the program. 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 event will start at 5:30 pm on Thursday, September 14 at the Museum with a reception. After, the program will span from 6:30 pm-8:00 pm and a book signing will take place from 8:00 pm-8:45 pm. For tickets to the event, visit:

The 2023 Waterston Desert Writing Prize is possible with support from Charles Redd Center for Western Studies and in partnership with Oregon State University-Cascades.

To learn more about the Waterston Desert Writing Prize, please visit:


THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM opened in Bend, Oregon in 1982. It brings together wildlife, cultures, art, history and the natural world to convey the wonder of North America’s High Desert. The Museum is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, is a Smithsonian Affiliate, was the 2019 recipient of the Western Museums Association’s Charles Redd Award for Exhibition Excellence and was a 2021 recipient of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.