Waterston Desert Writing Prize

Submission Period

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2024 – Wednesday, May 1st, 2024

The Waterston Desert Writing Prize (the Prize) was established in 2014, 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 provides financial and other support to writers whose work reflects a similar connection to the desert, recognizing the vital role deserts play worldwide in the ecosystem and the human narrative.

In 2024, the Prize will recognize the winner with a $3,000 cash award and a reading and reception at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon on September 26, 2024.  Following the review of submissions by the Waterston Desert Writing Prize Advisory Committee, the winner and finalists are selected by the  guest judge.

In celebration of the Prize’s tenth anniversary, the 2024 guest judge will be actor and producer Sam Waterston, who funded the original endowment that launched the Prize. The ceremony’s keynote speaker will be Tucker Malarkey, a nationally bestselling author. Malarkey’s most recent book, Stronghold: One Man’s Quest to Save the World’s Wild Salmon, chronicles one conservationist’s journey to save the world’s remaining wild salmon.

Sam Waterston temporary headshot

2024 Guest Judge Sam Waterston 

Known for his work in theater, television, and film, actor Sam Waterston gained stardom portraying Jack McCoy on the NBC crime series Law & Order (1994–2010, 2022–), for which he has received a Screen Actors Guild AwardGolden Globe Award and Emmy Award. Other notable roles include Grace and Frankie (2015–2022), The Newsroom (2012 -2014),  The Great Gatsby (1974), and The Killing Fields (1984). Accolades include nominations for an Academy Award, a Tony Award and a BAFTA Award. He is the brother of Waterston Desert Writing Prize Founder, Ellen Waterston.

Temporary Tucker Photo

2024 Keynote Speaker Tucker Malarkey

Nationally bestselling author of the critically acclaimed and national bestselling novels An Obvious Enchantment and Resurrection. Her first major work of non-fiction, Stronghold, describes one man’s journey to save salmon habitat in the US and Russia. Stronghold was an editor’s pick for The New York Times, National Book Review, Outside and Forbes. With a career that began at The Washington Post, Tucker’s love of human culture and wilderness have since taken her all over the world.

Who’s Eligible to Apply

Nonfiction writers who illustrate artistic excellence, sensitivity to place and desert literacy with the desert as both subject and setting.  The award supports literary nonfiction writers who are completing, proposing, or considering the creation of a book-length manuscript. It is recommended the writing sample submitted is part of the proposed project or closely represents it in content and style.

How to Apply – Open January 2nd, 2024

Step 1. Fill out the online application form (link active after January 2nd, 2024) on Submittable. This form is the only location identifying information (your name, address, email) should appear.

Step 2. Upload ONE Word (.doc or .docx) or PDF file. Combine the three parts of the application described below into one document and do not place your name or other identifying information on any page of the document.

  1. Biographical StatementOne double-spaced page in 12-point type and one-inch margins. Do not disclose your identity in this information. A resumé or curriculum vitae will not be accepted. Provide a brief narrative that summarizes:
  • Your educational, professional, publication, and writing experience
  • How the Waterston Desert Writing Prize award will benefit your work
  • Your commitment to making a meaningful contribution to the body of desert literature
  1. Proposal Title and Description: No more than one double-spaced page in 12-point type and one-inch margins. The description should include:
  • Proposal title
  • Brief description of the project
  • Desert locations included in the project’s research 
  • Brief description of how the project will contribute to desert literature and expand knowledge of the deserts

NOTE: A budget is not required

  1. Writing Sample: No more than 10 double-spaced pages in 12-point type and one-inch margins. Please keep in mind:
  • Writing samples that are in other genres such as poetry, fiction or juvenile literature will be disqualified. 
  • Writing samples can be published material or unpublished drafts. 
  • You must be the sole author and have full ownership of the work.
  • Any extra materials included with the proposal, and not requested in these guidelines, will not be reviewed.

Step 3. Submit materials. All applications must be submitted via Submittable. Please note that incomplete and late applications will not be reviewed. The deadline is 11:59 pm on Wednesday, May 1, 2024.

Questions? Please direct questions to waterston@highdesertmuseum.org

The award recipient is asked to agree to the following: 

  • With travel assistance from the High Desert Museum, the award recipient should make every effort to attend the award ceremony and reception. The ceremony will occur on Thursday, September 26th, 2024, in Bend, Oregon.
  • At the time the award is announced, the recipient will submit a high-resolution photograph to be used for publicity purposes.
  • Award recipient must grant permission for the Museum to publicize the award and winner
  • Award recipient will acknowledge the Prize and High Desert Museum in any publications generated because of the award; language will be provided to the award winner by the High Desert Museum. 
  • The Prize appreciates receiving a sample of writing generated as part of the project to post on the Waterston Desert Writing Prize and/or High Desert Museum website.
  • Twelve months following the awarding of the Waterston Desert Writing Prize, the winner will provide the Museum a one-page report detailing how the award supported their work, project-related tasks accomplished during the year, news of publication plans, and a sample of the writing produced.

2023 Winner Anna Welch

The 2023 Waterston Desert Writing Prize winner is Anna Welch (annakwelch.com).

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.

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.