The 2017 Winner and Finalists Have Been Chosen!

The winner of the 2017 Waterston Desert Writing Prize is Naseem Rakha. Her proposal, "Searching for the Soul of Creation," focused on the desert tortoise. She intends to explore what we must do to support the desert tortoise and its habitat so that it does not vanish into pure myth, as well as what the desert tortoise and its habitat teach about intention and quiet. Read more about Rakha below, as well as this year's three finalists.

Guest judge John Calderazzo said, "The winner and finalists of this year's prizes deserve more than the usual praise. They won out over a bushel of gloriously talented writers whose insights and passions made this contest a real pleasure to read, even as it was no easy task for the judges to pick just a few winners. What a delight to know that so much good nonfiction writing is out there-and so much heart."

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Naseem Rakha is a geologist, educator, speaker, and award winning author and journalist whose novel, The Crying Tree, has earned international acclaim for its frank examination of crime, punishment, sexual identity and forgiveness. Naseem’s commentaries can be found in The Guardian and she was a contributor to National Public Radio. When not writing, Naseem spends her time hiking, climbing, rafting and photographing areas throughout the American West. Her work can also be found in the Los Angeles Review and Gold Man Review. Naseem is currently working on a new novel. She lives in Oregon with her husband and son, dog, cats and snake.


Finalist Kendra Atleework proposed a project titled Sweetwater: Life and Change in the Rain Shadow of the Sierra Nevada. In February of 2015, a wildfire raged through the brush that covers the floor of Owens Valley,  sparing her childhood house but reducing many neighbors’ homes to ash. Part memoir, part travel narrative, and part researched investigation, the proposal follows the rebuilding process while journeying through the public, personal, and natural history of Owens Valley, a place of extremes. Born and raised in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains of California, Atleework is at work on a book that expands on her essay “Charade,” which appeared in The Best American Essays 2015. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, the writer Jonas Gardsby.

Finalist Charles Hood proposed a project titled "Red Center," focused on the Lambert Centre, one of the most remote locations in Australia. His base premise was that the middle of nowhere is the always the center of somewhere, and he wants to write a love letter to nothingness, based on a ten-mile radius of the Lambert marker. Hood has spent his career working and living in the Mojave Desert. A selection of his desert-centered work earned him the 2016 Felix Pollak Prize in poetry, and in March 2017 Wisconsin University Press released the contest-winning manuscript, Partially Excited States. He also wrote Mouth, 2016 winner of the Kenneth Patchen Innovative Novel Prize. Hood’s book South x South was the 2013 Hollis Summers Prize winner, a book that recounts his experiences in Antarctica as an artist-in-residence with the National Science Foundation.

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Finalist Lawrence Lenhart's proposal, "Rewilding the Ferret," focused on the endangered black-footed ferret and four sites in Arizona’s high desert. "Rewilding the Ferret" tells the story of conservation against the backdrop of the Sixth Mass Extinction, spanning the desert regions between the U.S.-Mexico Border and the Grand Canyon. Lenhart studied writing at the University of Pittsburgh and holds an MFA from the University of Arizona. His first collection of essays is The Well-Stocked and Gilded Cage (Outpost19). Recent writing appears in Conjunctions, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, Passages North, and Prairie Schooner. He is a professor of fiction and nonfiction at Northern Arizona University and a reviews editor and assistant fiction editor of DIAGRAM.