Waterston – Past Judges and Panelists

Waterston Desert Writing Prize

A Desert Conversation – Past Judges and Panelists

The goal of “A Desert Conversation” is to increase the general public’s awareness of the role deserts play in the natural world and in human endeavors. The program for “A Desert Conversation” features a moderator and noted authors as panelists offering their observations and perspectives on desert issues posed by the moderator, as well as of their choosing.


2023: The 2023 Waterston Desert Writing Prize keynote speaker was author and biologist Thor Hanson. Thor Hanson is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Switzer Environmental Fellow, and winner of the John Burroughs Medal. His books include BuzzThe Triumph of SeedsFeathersBartholomew QuillThe Impenetrable Forest and Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid. Hanson was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. The 2023 guest judge, Rena Priest (Lummi) made her literary debut with Patriarchy Blues, a collection of poetry that received an American Book Award. Priest was the first Indigenous poet laureate of the state of Washington. The 2023 prize winner, Anna Welch, holds a degree in English Literature from the University of Oregon. Her submission, “Momentum: A Trans-Continental Bicycle Journey,” 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.

2022: The 2022 Waterston Desert Writing Prize guest judge was Raquel Gutiérrez (raquelgutierrez.net). Gutiérrez is an MFA faculty author at OSU-Cascades. A 2021 recipient of the Rabkin Prize in Arts Journalism, their writing has appeared in Art in AmericaThe Georgia Review and on NPR Music. Gutiérrez recently published a memoir, Brown Neon. The Ceremony included acclaimed writer Kevin Fedarko, author of The New York Times bestseller The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

2021: The Museum welcomed Elizabeth Woody (Navajo, Warm Springs, Wasco, Yakama) as the Prize’s guest judge. Woody, the executive director of the Museum at Warm Springs, is also a renowned poet, author, essayist and visual artist. She was named Oregon’s Poet Laureate in 2016, won the American Book Award in 1990 and the William Stafford Memorial Award for Poetry in 1995, and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Awards in 1995. Watch the virtual program here

2019: Guest panelists for the 2019 “Conversation” were Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford, noted Western historian, author and founder/chair of the Board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado Patty Limerick and desert writer Bruce Berger.

2018: Guest panelists for the 2018 “Conversation” were poet Charles Goodrich, fluvial geologist and author Rebecca Lawton, soil scientist and artist Dr. Jay Stratton Noller and film maker Richard Wilhelm. The moderator was Adam Davis, executive director, Oregon Humanities.

2017: The  guests for the 2017 “Conversation” were Kathleen Dean Moore, renowned author, environmental advocate and past Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Oregon State, and John Calderazzo, writer, Professor Emeritus and celebrated creative nonfiction teacher at Colorado State University. 

2023 keynote speaker Thor Hanson

2022 guest judge Raquel Gutiérrez and winner Caroline Tracey.

Ellen Waterston moderates 2019 panel with Kim Stafford, Patty Limerick and Bruce Berger (reading).

 2018 panel with Charles Goodrich, Jay Stratton Noller, Rebecca Lawton and Richard Wilhelm with moderator Adam Davis.

Ellen Waterston moderates 2017 panel with Kathleen Dean Moore and John Calderazzo.