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.