Message from Tara FitzGerald, 2016 Winner, Waterston Desert Writing Prize

"I just wanted to say once again how incredibly grateful I am to you and the members of the Waterston Desert Writing Prize committee for recognizing my work this year. It's really an amazing honor and so encouraging to me as I push ahead with working on my Aral Sea book. I enjoyed the reception at the High Desert Museum so much and I was so touched by the kind and wonderful introduction you gave me."

Remarks Made at the High Desert Museum's 2015 Rendezvous Auction and Dinner August 29, 2015

We’ve just heard what it takes
to keep the High Desert Museum going.
The question is…
do we have what it takes?
We do.
Of course we do!

Executive Director Dana Whitelaw mentioned
moments” in her comments.

What High Desert Museum moments
are special to you?
Right now has to be one
Because…guess why…

tonight you and I
and all of us,
can influence the future

of Oregon’s outback,
sage steppe,
great basin,
empty quarter.

This moment is ours to shape and ensure
the future of everything
this High Desert Museum embraces:
critters, people, magical places,

all this Museum brings to life…
so those who follow can also rejoice
in earth’s bold collision with sky,
the iridescence of the raven feather,
rabbit brush’s fall flavesence.

So all who follow
can also learn to discern
the feint contrails of human
triumph and tragedy
writ across this scape
and within those chalky tracings
see their own uncertain stories
as we have, as we do.

This is one of those moments
to do what it takes
so the High Desert Museum can continue
to seek the questions worth asking,
to ask the answers worth seeking.

In this moment it is for us to make sure
this museum remains a call
to what must continue to thrive
if, in ways real and imagined,
we, all of us, anywhere, are to survive.

So tonight
we’re going to shout
so loud
the future can’t help but pay us heed,so loud
this straight-faced desert cracks
a smile
of deep gratitude.

On these grounds, under this roof
a national treasure
of inquiry
, vision, adventure
that needs you to secure
its robust growth.

Indeed, tonight you are conductor and composer both…
so pick up your paddle and pen
think, as Jarold Ramsey says, like a canyon.
Think BIG, think BOLD like a canyon!
Turn this moment
into momentum
for the High Desert Museum

(Photo courtesy High Desert Museum)


Oregon Natural Desert Association Trek to Owyhee Canyonlands

Thanks to the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) and trip coordinator Sam Frank who managed to successfully herd 14 or so of us cats mid-September on a mapping and data-collecting expedition in the Owyhee Canyonlands area of southeastern Oregon. (in photo, left to right:  ONDA volunteers Ellen Waterston, Richard Mayes, Douglas Vincent.) The goal is to get a big chunk of land protected that would include both the big and little Owyhee canyons.  Amazing, wild country. I will be in Washington, D.C. on October 12 and look forward to advocating for the protection of this vast and unique area. For more information about ONDA’s efforts, please visit


OperaBend Auditions Start July 16 for Via Lactea: An Opera in Two Acts

OperaBend will stage the world premiere of "Via Lactea: An Opera in Two Acts" in June 2016 in Bend's Tower Theatre. Local auditions for their 2015/2016 season, including "Via Lactea" start Thursday, July 16. Applications can be emailed to Jason Stein, Executive Director, at Visit OperaBend's website for full details on application and audition requirements.

Waterston Desert Writing Prize Award Ceremony Honors 2015 Winner and Finalist

The Waterston Desert Writing Prize is possible thanks to an endowment administered by the Oregon Community Foundation, the seed for which was originally planted by my brother, actor Sam Waterston, and has since been nourished by the generosity of many.  It affords the Waterston Prize Board the privilege of enriching the literary life of the Central Oregon region, the State of Oregon and, given the rapidly growing reach of the prize, the world. Indeed, of the 29 submissions this first year, 14 different states were represented, as well as Europe and India. 

The Board of Directors, who jury the submissions and vote on the prize-winner, and the Advisory Committee, who offer comment at the finalist stage, were struck by the quality and diversity of the proposals received in 2015. With continued hard work, word of the prize will spread and the harvest of submissions along with it, and the size of the prize will increase each year due to growth in the endowment.

I want to acknowledge those who have played a critical role thus far. First the Board of Directors (and I should say, Board of Writers…to the person, all published) who not only carefully read and evaluated all of the blind submissions, but also, along the way, have provided accounting, catering, hospitality, administrative and financial support: Gail Hill, Vice-President, Louise Hawker, Secretary, Julia Kennedy Cochran, Jennifer Delahunty, Jeff Tryens, Treasurer, Ted Haynes, Dick Linford, and Chuck McGrath.

Advisors to the Board include Brent Fenty, Executive Director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, Executive Director of PLAYA at Summer Lake, Deborah Ford, Julie Gregory, Central and Eastern Oregon Regional Director of the Oregon Community Foundation, and Dana Whitelaw, Executive Director of the High Desert Museum who graciously hosted this year’s awards ceremony.

In addition, the prize has gotten this far thanks to individual and corporate donors who, despite the varying size of their gifts, have in equal and critical measure subscribed to the concept of this prize and its importance in increasing awareness and appreciation of the desert as setting and subject, of deserts and desert literature. Taken together, you have all been the miracle grow for this fledgling nonprofit.

Many who are desert advocates applaud the Board, advisors and donors for the creation of this award…among them Oregon author and poet Kim Stafford  who penned these inspiring words to share with you tonight: “The desert grants tough generosity—the kind you earn by going still as a bone, bright as a drop of rain. To grant support for a writer to inhabit such a place, and bring us notes of witness to that encounter—this is a human act as bold as howl of coyote, sparkle of star, scent of sage. Where water touches stone in dry country, there may the attentive writer revel.” 

I believe we are led to the landscape that teaches us what we need to know. 

I have become a devoted student of this sage steppe and was inspired to create this prize as a tribute to the desert which is, and for decades has been, my muse. The desert is abstemious, clever, restrained, funny, goofy, imaginative, vast, and peculiarly sad. Inspired by a love of this desert place, I join the Board in its commitment to increase awareness of desert landscapes everywhere and to honor those who write about them through the Waterston Desert Writing Prize. 

As part of the prize being awarded this year, PLAYA at Summer Lake,  an inspirational multi-disciplinary residency campus for artists and scientists located in the heart of Oregon’s Outback, has generously donated a four week writing residency to the winner. For artists and scientists, the gift of time to create, far from the distractions and demands of daily life, is absolutely invaluable. Thank you, PLAYA!  I should also add that PLAYA’s Executive Director, Deborah Ford, who has a Masters in Photography and MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts, and who taught photography at Prescott College in Arizona for three decades, donated the prints presented to Rebecca Lawton, the 2015 winner and to finalist Caroline Treadway, who, of the three finalists, was able to attend the awards ceremony.

Once again, congratulations to Rebecca Lawton, winner of the 2015 Waterston Desert Writing Prize, and to all the finalists!  Tax deductible donations to help this small but mighty prize grow can be made payable to Waterston Desert Writing Prize and sent to PO Box 640, Bend, Oregon 97709.  Submission guidelines for 2016 will be posted on this site soon. Meanwhile, enjoy these fun photos of the award ceremony, courtesy of the High Desert Museum’s photographer John Williams.


Dedication at St. Charles Cancer Center

A broadside featuring Bend artist Ron Schultz's illustration and Ellen Waterston's poem "Cruz de Ferro" joins other artwork in the new St. Charles Cancer Center Les Schwab Medical Oncology Wing, in honor of Margaret Schwab Denton. The piece was donated by students of Ellen Waterston's "Writing for the Health of It" creative writing workshop offered annually at St. Charles Cancer Center. Pictured left to right: (Back row) Fred Olson, CJ Anderson; (Front row) Maureen Drews, Ellen Waterston, Lynn Bernard, Mary Hartrich.

"Via Lactea: An Opera in Two Acts"

Transforming my verse novel into a libretto is proving to be, well, transformative...for me, my poetry and, I hope, for all the collaborators involved. The writing is strengthened by the amount of scrutiny the conversion process takes as characters are more finely etched, new ones created, voice parts identified, drama intensified. I am very grateful to all who have been willing to read the libretto at various stages and offer comment. Most thrilling is that, unlike the lonely world of the writer, as soon as scripting, musical composition, singers and staging get involved there are lots of people in the sand box. Composer Rebecca Oswald of Eugene, Oregon ( will apply her melodic magic to the libretto and will take up residence in Bend, Oregon for the summer in order to work with OperaBend and members of the Central Oregon Symphony as she writes the music. OperaBend ( is not only serving as the nonprofit umbrella for the production to facilitate fundraising, but Executive Director Jason Stein will sing a role in the production and his wife, soprano Nancy Engebretson, will direct. Members of the Central Oregon Symphony, under the direction of the talented Maestro Michael Gesme (, will fill the orchestra pit. Guest performers are being invited from New York, Portland and Eugene operas for the premiere. Fall 2015 workshops are being scheduled for Eugene ( and Portland ( opera students with the goal of giving them the opportunity to interpret characters that have not been performed before. Set designer and illustrator of the art book version of “Vía Láctea” Ron Schultz is waiting in the wings to transform his illustrations into beautiful stage sets. Broadsides of his illustrations, along with my poems from “Vía Láctea” were recently part of an exhibition in the Rotunda at the State Capitol and the Reed Opera House in Salem, Oregon, organized by poet Eleanor Berry. Angel and “Producer Extraordinaire” Marjorie Carmen of Bend has set the fundraising bar high, issuing a challenge to donors to match her $60,000 gift. Marjorie is pictured (left) with Jason Stein and me in the photo above. A fundraiser designed to help meet that match is being organized for July 2015 in Bend, Oregon. A grant of $3,000 was awarded to composer Rebecca Oswald by the Oregon Arts Commission  for work on this project. The artists’ residency at Playa at Summer Lake ( awarded me a two week residency in March to continue work on the libretto. My writing and I are many times blessed by the retreats I have been fortunate to receive at Playa. 

Sincere thanks to Julie Bryant and Bill Roach and, of course, Playa Director Deborah Ford. With the Bend premiere scheduled at the Tower Theatre ( the weekend of June 10, 11, 12, 2016 there is much to accomplish. Please stay tunedon this website for notification of a July fundraiser, at which portions of the music and arias will be debuted. Tax-deductible donations can be made to OperaBend/“Vía Láctea” and mailed to PO Box 640, Bend, Oregon 97709.

Recap: 2015 "Writing Down the Baja" and "Manuscript Lab" - Todos Santos, BCS, Mexico

The Todos Santos retreat in February drew 18 participants from both coasts and Hawaii in a double-barreled “Writing Down the Baja” morning workshop followed by the “Manuscript Lab” in the afternoon, with excursions to various locations in and around Todos Santos. Guest authors Bruce Berger ( and Gordon Chaplin ( provided examples of Baja-based writing in evening readings. The testimonials below give an idea of what a productive and fun week it was. Special thanks to Serendipity for hosting all of us ( “Todas Palabras,” the anthology of very fine writing that resulted from this year’s retreat, can be ordered at Stay tuned for the announcement of 2016 dates!

Judging by the testimonials, it was a productive and inspiring experience for all of the Todas Palabras writers. "Thank you so much for your energy, time, thoughtfulness and constructive feedback at last week's writing workshop. As with last year's event, I enjoyed and learned from everyone, and every minute. It is certainly time well spent." Mike Brozda

"I am still Baja California Dreaming. It was a spectacular week, and I so enjoyed the company of each and everyone. With fond memories." ― Judith Miller



Writing Ranch Roundup - Workshops and Retreats

What is always challenging for me is guarding writing time, giving back to community, doing the teaching I so love, showing up, truly showing up, for family and friends…and that doesn’t even include flossing, sit-ups, ice cream binges and blogs, nor the unanticipated slings and arrows. The intent is there.  The execution lacks grace. 

Workshops and Retreats

Speaking of gracelessness, I apologize to all of you waiting and wondering about this summer’s writing workshop “Keep A Deep Seat and a Loose Rein.” Please do keep a deep seat and a loose rein while waiting to hear the exciting developments for 2016 relative to the Writing Ranch’s high desert three-day writing intensive.  It doesn’t look good for this summer but is an “over and under” for next. Who can tell me what that phrase refers to?

The October 2015 dates for “Writing for the Health of It” held at St. Charles Cancer Center in Bend, Oregon will be announced soon. 

Be sure to register for Women Writing the West conference to be held in Central Oregon October 8-11, 2015 at Eagle Crest, Redmond, Oregon ( I will be offering a poetry workshop in conjunction with the conference on October 8 from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The workshop is titled From Shadow to Dance: Form, Function and Peripheral Vision in Poetry. You can also find this description on the Women Writing the West website: "Poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance," wrote Carl Sandburg. Come dance with three-time WILLA Literary Award Winner Ellen Waterston as she leads a preconference poetry intensive. Ellen is an internationally recognized poet and author who will explore the elasticity of form and function as well as the importance of peripheral vision in nabbing that telling phrase or detail in writing poetry.

The conference roster is chock-a-block with interesting speakers and craft-oriented workshops.  Agents and publishers are also on hand.  Among the many who make sure these annual conferences are a success is Jane Kirkpatrick of Bend, Oregon.  Thank you, Jane, for all your hard work! ( Hope to see you there!

Thank You St. Charles Cancer Center and Writing for the Health of It Group

My recent writing workshop for cancer survivors, sponsored by the St. Charles Cancer Center, culminated in a luncheon, readings by workshop participants, and a dedication of one of my poem broadsides for display in the Cancer Center. I am truly moved by this recognition and thank St. Charles' exceptional staff and the wonderful writers I have had the privilege of working with in these workshops. A special thank you to Lynn Bernard, who organized the dedication and invited writing workshop alumni to attend the event. The Fall 2014 group titled their anthology "A Shared Journey - Pieces to Peace." Copies of the anthology will be available for purchase at $15 each. Please contact if you wish to purchase a copy of the outstanding writing created by this group.