The submission window for the 2021 Waterston Desert Writing Prize opens January 1. The Submit button will go live on January 1, giving access to the Submittable portal.

Read on for submission guidelines. When ready to start the submission process, scroll down the page and click on the Submit button (starting January 1, 2021).

Now starting its sixth 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 2021, the Prize will recognize one writer with a $2,500 cash award, a reading and reception at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, and a residency at PLAYA at Summer Lake, Oregon.

When and How to Apply
Proposals can be submitted beginning January 1, 2021 and ending April 1, 2021. 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. Click here to see an example of a winning submission. -->

Step 1. Fill out the online application form. This is the only location where identifying information (your name, address, email) should appear.

Step 2. Upload ONE Word or Acrobat file.
Combine the three parts of the application described below 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.

While you are welcome to submit any nonfiction sample, the Prize only considers literary nonfiction proposals about deserts for the award. It is recommended that you submit work that is part of your intended final project or closely represents it in content and style. Writing samples about deserts and natural settings are more likely to be reviewed favorably. Writing samples that are in other genres such as poetry, fiction or juvenile literature will be disqualified.

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 should make every effort to attend the award ceremony and reception. The 2019 ceremony will occur Wednesday, June 26, 2019 in Bend, Oregon.

  • 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 Waterston Desert Writing Prize website.


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