Al Lehto Wins Inaugural Student Desert Writing Prize

Al Lehto, a senior at Redmond Proficiency Academy, has won the inaugural Waterston Student Desert Writing Prize for their essay, "Badlands," an essay about the many hours their artist mother spent painting in the Badlands (now a federally designated wilderness area) just east of Bend, and the times they would join her. There, according to Lehto, their mother found solace, escape and inspiration. Al wrote, “As I’ve grown older, my mom’s passion for the aged trees has been more natural, and brought me closer to understanding her compassion for wildlife and longing for the great wide spaces they offer.” Al plans to attend the University of Oregon majoring in early childhood education. Al's win includes a $250 cash prize, and recognition and a reading at the Prize's virtual 2020 award ceremonies on September 17, 2020.








The student award contest is open to all high school-age students (grades 9-12), 18 years old or younger, who reside in Crook, Deschutes,Lake or Jefferson County. Public school, private school and home-schooled students are eligible.


Essays may be submitted by email to from January 1, 2020 through (new date!) April 15, 2020. The prize winner and other submitters will be notified in late April and the winner will be invited to appear at the annual Waterston Desert Writing Prize awards event at the High Desert Museum June 24, 2020.

Submission Guidelines

Essays should be between 750 and 1,000 words of nonfiction prose in Word or PDF format. Fiction and poems are not eligible. Essays may describe a place, address an issue facing the desert, an observation, or relate a story about the desert (historical, contemporary, metaphorical, or from the author's personal experience). Summaries or derivative versions of already well-documented topics are discouraged. Submissions must not have been previously published (e.g., in a school newspaper).


Do not include your name, school or any other identifying information in the essay document itself. Include identifying information only in the email to which the essay is attached.


Evaluation Criteria

1. Contribution to the understanding and appreciation of the high desert region of Oregon

2. Originality

3. Clarity of expression

4. Accuracy

5. Grammar, spelling and punctuation

How to Submit Your Essay

Essays can be submitted beginning January 1, 2020 and no later than 11:59 p.m. April 15, 2020. Please send your essay, in Word or PDF format, as an attachment to an email to Do not include any information identifying you in the attachment.

In the email, please provide:

  • Your name

  • The title of your essay

  • The best phone number to reach you

  • Your home address

  • Your school or location of high-school equivalent education

  • Your grade level in school

  • Your age as of April 15, 2020

  • The statement: "I certify that the attached essay is entirely my own work."

Award Agreement

Award recipients are asked to agree to the following:

  • Award recipient grants permission for the Prize to publicize the award.

  • Award recipient should make every effort to attend the award ceremony and reception on June 24, 2020 at the High Desert Museum in Bend.

  • Award recipient must be open to visits and/or interviews by the Prize Board.

  • Winning submission and finalist submissions, if any, may later be published, with an acknowledgment, on the Prize website and/or in other media by the Waterston Desert Writing Prize.

© 2017-2020 Waterston Desert Writing Prize. All rights reserved.  Questions?