2020 Waterston Desert Writing Prize Winner and Finalists

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Winner: Hannah Hindley

Hannah Hindley’s winning submission, “Thin Blue Dream,” proposes a collection of interconnected stories that explore the Sonoran Desert’s disappearing waterways, the fish that used to call them home, and the successes and complications that come with efforts to help restore depleted tributaries with city effluent. “It’s a strange story of ghost rivers, dead fish, and resilience in the heart of urban spaces in the desert,” states Hindley.


Currently completing her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Arizona, Hindley is also a wilderness guide, licensed captain, environmental curriculum designer and naturalist. Her work as a naturalist has taken her to remote wildernesses, from the arid islands in the Sea of Cortez and the fog desert of Baja California, to national parks all over the west. She has written for publications including the Harvard Review, Hakai Magazine, Terrain, River Teeth and Alaska Magazine. Hindley has been the writer in residence at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. She is the recipient of the Thomas Wood Award in Journalism, the New Conrads Prize, the Bill Waller Award for Nonfiction, and the Katharine Bakeless Nason Scholarship for the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers Workshop. Hindley graduated from Harvard with degrees in English and in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.

Finalist: Eli Beck

Eli Beck's submission, “Rude Awakenings,” will be an examination of wilderness therapy programs in the Four Corners region of New Mexico. He will weave in the fraught natural and political history of the landscapes that these young people find themselves in, and describe the ‘minimal impact’ these teenagers are taught in their interactions with the land. Beck says, “My hope in writing this book is to allow the unexamined habits of our culture to appear in full contrast against the backdrop of the desert, and to promote a message of reconciliation among our fractured landscapes, families and selves.”

Beck is an emerging writer and Utah native who has been published in the Canyon Echo Journal. Since graduating from Brown University in 2018 with a degree in Education Studies, he has  been working in wilderness therapy as a field instructor in the high desert of eastern Utah. He spends a week at a time living with teens who were struggling at home, helping them to adapt and to look inside themselves.

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Finalist: Leath Tonino

Leath Tonino's submission, “Nooks and Crannies: Mapping the (Unmappable) Waterpocket Fold with Prose Vignettes.” is a documentation of his outdoor encounters in this iconic location. For 15 years, Tonino has been exploring Utah’s Waterpocket Fold, the sandstone that forms the spine of Capitol Reef National Park. Tonino says, “The version of desert literacy that I hope to advance has less to do with knowing what a place is and more to do with a distinct style of engagement, i.e. how to be with our not-knowing, with the fact that we simply can’t reduce the Fold to one interpretation or understanding.”

Tonino is a full-time freelance writer who sold his earliest magazine stories while still an

undergraduate at Colorado College where he studied philosophy and ecology. He has made

some 50 backcountry trips on the Colorado Plateau, in the Mojave Desert, and across the Great Basin. HIs creative nonfiction (150 pieces and counting) has appeared in Outside, Men's Journal, Orion, The Sun, High Country News, Sierra, The Progressive, and Adventure Journal. Tonino also is the author of a forthcoming book of nature poems (Green Writers Press, 2020) and two essay collections published by Trinity University Press.