Waterston Desert Writing Prize

The Waterston Desert Writing Prize (the Prize) was established in 2014 and 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 2023, the Waterston Desert Writing Prize will recognize the winner with a $3,000 cash award, a residency at PLAYA at Summer Lake and a reading and reception at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon on September 14, 2023. Proposals will be reviewed by the Waterston Desert Writing Prize Advisory Committee and the 2023 guest judge, Rena Priest, the first Indigenous poet laureate of the state of Washington and the winner of a 2018 American Book Award for Patriarchy Blues.

Submission window for the 2023 Waterston Desert Writing Prize is closed.

Please check back for the Prize winner announcement!


2023 Guest Judge Rena Priest (Lummi)

Priest’s 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. Learn more about her.

Thor Hanson

2023 Keynote Speaker Dr. Thor Hanson

Author and biologist 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. Learn more about him.


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.

Renowned author and poet Ellen Waterston started the fledgling Waterston Desert Writing Prize in 2014. From the beginning, the High Desert Museum has been a strong partner to the organization, promoting the Prize and hosting the annual awards ceremony and reception. On September 17, 2020, Ellen Waterston announced another huge step for the Waterston Desert Writing Prize, its official adoption by the High Desert Museum.

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, through community interaction with the winning authors of the annual prize, and presentations and programs that take place in association with the program.

2022 Winner Caroline Tracey

The 2022 Waterston Desert Writing Prize winner is Caroline Tracey (cetracey.com).

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. 

Tracey is based in Tucson, Arizona and focuses her work on culture, environment and migration in the southwestern United States, Mexico and the borderlands between the two. Her personal essays have appeared in Kenyon Review, Full Stop, New South and elsewhere. She holds a Ph.D. in geography from the University of California, Berkeley and lives with her wife, Mexican architect and sculptor Mariana GJP, and their dog, between Tucson and Mexico City. Tracey speaks and writes in English, Spanish and Russian.