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About the Waterston Desert Writing Prize

The Waterston Desert Writing Prize will open for 2018 submissions January 1, 2018 and close April 1, 2018. A link for submissions will be available January 1.

The Prize chose Naseem Rakha as the 2017 winner, and finalists, Kendra Atleework, Charles Hood and Lawrence Lenhart. Read about them and their proposals here.  Thank you for your interest in the Waterston Desert Writing Prize.

Now starting its fourth year, the Prize annually honors literary nonfiction that illustrates artistic excellence, sensitivity to place, and desert literacy - with the desert as both subject and setting. Inspired by author and poet Ellen Waterston's love of the high desert of Central Oregon, a region that has been her muse for more than 30 years, the Prize recognizes the vital role deserts play worldwide in the ecosystem and human narrative. Emerging, mid-career and established nonfiction writers are invited to apply. Previous submitters who have not won an award are eligible to apply with a new project.

The Award
In 2018, the Prize will recognize one writer with a $2,000 cash award, a reading and reception at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, and a four-week residency at PLAYA at Summer Lake, Oregon.

When and How to Apply
Proposals can be submitted beginning January 1, 2018 and ending April 1, 2018. All submitters are required to use the online application link.

Only those applicants whose submissions follow the guidelines correctly will be eligible for review.  Further, applicants should submit only the specified materials. Any extra materials included with the proposal, and not requested in these guidelines, will not be reviewed. You will be expected to provide the information listed below.

Step 1. Fill out the online application form.

Step 2. Upload ONE Word or Acrobat file.
Combine the three parts of the application into ONE document and DO NOT place your name or other identifying information on any page of the document.

1. Biographical Statement (no more than one double-spaced page in 12 point type )
Provide a brief narrative (not a resume or vita) summarizing your educational and professional background, writing experience and publication history. DO NOT disclose your identity in this information. Submissions with resumes or vitae will be rejected. Please also answer these questions:

  • Where did you hear about the Prize?
  • Why are you interested in working in the desert?
  • How will a Waterston Desert Writing Prize award benefit your work?
  • Describe your desert experience(s).
  • Demonstrate a commitment to making a meaningful contribution to the body of desert literature.

2. Proposal Title and Description (no more than one double-spaced page in 12 point type )
Please note that neither the particular desert region to be visited nor the length of time to be spent there are specified by the Prize. Budget information is not required in the description. Any desert region in the world is applicable to this award.

  • Proposal Title
  • Describe your writing project
  • Where, in the desert, will you go to research your project?
  • What is your plan for field work?
  • How do you plan to sustain the project to completion as a book?

Please explain specifically how the project will:

  • Add new perspectives and make a meaningful contribution to the body of desert literature
  • Advance desert literacy

3. Writing Sample (no more than 10 double-spaced pages in 12 point type and one inch margins)

You may submit published, unpublished, or work in progress. The work must be that for which you have sole artistic ownership and responsibility.

Since the Prize considers only literary nonfiction proposals for the award, it is best to submit a sample of the same. A sample of the proposed project will strengthen your application. Writing samples that are in other genres such as poetry, fiction or juvenile literature will only weaken your chances of selection and are discouraged.

Award recipients are asked to agree to the following:

  • At the time the award is accepted, the recipient will submit a photograph and grant permission for information submitted in the proposal to be used for publicity purposes.
  • Award recipient must grant permission for the Prize to publicize the award.
  • Award recipient must be open to visits and/or interviews by the Prize board and staff.
  • Accepting the Waterston Desert Writing Prize award obliges the recipient to provide a brief project evaluation by the end of the year of the award.
  • Award recipient will be asked to acknowledge the Prize in any publications generated from the award project; language will be provided.
  • While not required, the Prize appreciates receiving a sample of the writing generated as part of the project to post on the Writing Ranch website.

Donate to the Waterston Desert Writing Prize
The Prize is funded from an endowment managed by the Oregon Community Foundation. The endowment was established by actor Sam Waterston, after whom the prize is named. As the endowment for the prize grows, so will the annual prize amount. The Waterston Desert Writing Prize is a nonprofit organization with IRS 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. Tax deductible donations to the Waterston Desert Writing Prize can be mailed to PO Box 640, Bend, Oregon 97709.

Thank You Deschutes Cultural Coalition
The Prize is supported by a grant from the Deschutes Cultural Coalition with funds from the Oregon Cultural Trust to support Oregon's arts, heritage, and the humanities.

Mission: The mission of the Waterston Desert Writing Prize is to strengthen and support the literary arts and humanities in the Northwest through recognition of literary excellence in nonfiction writing about desert landscapes, through community interaction with the winning authors of the prize, and presentations and programs that take place in association with the prize.

Celebration of the 2016 Winner: The 2016 winner of the Prize, Tara FitzGerald, and finalist Kenneth Garcia, and their contributions to the body of desert literature, were celebrated in an event at the High Desert Museum in June 2016. Enjoy these photos from the event, courtesy of photographer John Williams. View more of his work at

Shown below, photos from the 2015 reading and reception, honoring winner Rebecca Lawton and finalist Caroline Treadway.