Waterston – Bob Keefer and Taylor Perse

Waterston Desert Writing Prize

Bob Keefer and Taylor Perse – 2023 Finalists

 Growing up in Los Angeles, Bob Keefer hated the desert. It was hot and dusty, devoid of anything pleasant to look at, and populated, it seemed, by peculiar people who lived in rundown trailers. By the time he moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1982, though, he had done a complete turnaround, fascinated by the beauty of places like Joshua Tree National Monument. After living in the Oregon rain for about four years he fell in love with Death Valley – its splendid isolation, stark features, and highly flavored Western American history.

As a long-time feature and arts writer at The Register-Guard newspaper in Eugene, he enjoyed doing lengthy stories about Eastern Oregon, its places and its people. There he discovered not only the intense beauty of Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert but also the strong bonds that hold rural communities together across miles and miles of seemingly desolate countryside.

Bob is a graduate of Harvard University, where he studied history of religion and wrote for the editorial board of the Harvard Crimson. At the RG, an editor introduced him to the joys of writing about theater, and he soon became a regular reviewer of plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In 2006 he was a fellow at the National Endowment for the Arts’ Journalism Institute for Theater and Musical Theater in Los Angeles.

Eventually he began writing about visual art and artists, which led to more education through classes in drawing, design and painting at Lane Community College.

Soon Bob began exhibiting his own art – hand colored black and white photographs of the Western landscape – in coffee houses and other informal venues. Today his work can be seen in art galleries around the West, and one of his pieces is in the permanent collection of Oregon State University’s Art About Agriculture program.

The idea of writing “Return to the Desert” – a book about the Oregon desert in two voices, inspired by E.R. Jackman and R.A. Long’s “The Oregon Desert” – grew out of several trips he made to the Eastern Oregon desert to do stories with Eugene Weekly reporter Taylor Perse.

Taylor Perse is pleased to be a 2023 Waterston Prize Finalist, recognized for the project “Return to the Oregon Desert” a collaboration undertaken alongside writer and photographer Bob Keefer. Originally from the scenic Willamette Valley, Taylor has also sought diverse experiences and perspectives, fostering a deep connection with different landscapes and cultures. This exploration has taken her from living in the rolling hills of rural Spain to living near jungles of Central America.

Taylor spent several years as a journalist for Eugene Weekly, a weekly paper based out of Lane County, Oregon. She wrote a variety of stories and topics including investigative journalism, news stories, and features on the Oregon desert. During her years as a journalist she has won awards for her writing from the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Raised amid the greenery of western part of Oregon, Taylor developed a profound connection with her home state at a young age, and has spent much time hiking, horseback riding, and camping. An advanced Spanish speaker and fueled by a passion for exploration, she has traversed the landscapes, uncovering the unique cultural pockets hidden within Oregon’s diverse regions.

Taylor’s dedication to unraveling the mystery and complexity of Oregon’s high desert defines her unique contribution to the cultural narrative. At the core of “Return to the Oregon Desert” is the mission to challenge stereotypes and present Oregon’s high desert as more than a tourist destination. Through their work, Taylor and Bob aim to showcase the region’s significance in shaping the cultural tapestry of the state. With a nod to ranch life, one-room schoolhouses, burgeoning art scenes, and the nuanced culture wars, “Return to the Oregon Desert” is a sincere effort to share the love for this untouched realm with a broader audience.