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Literary Arts News, Writers

Meet Ellen Waterston, 2024 Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award Winner

Each year, Literary Arts presents the Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award to a person or organization in recognition of significant contributions that have enriched Oregon’s literary community. Members of the community nominate individuals and the Programs for Writers Council makes their recommendations to the Literary Arts Board of Directors for the recipients. The award is presented at the annual Oregon Book Awards ceremony. This year’s ceremony takes place on April 8, 2024, and is hosted by Kwame Alexander.

The winner of this year’s Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award is Ellen Waterston, a celebrated writer of nonfiction, memoir, and poetry, and an advocate for the literary arts. She is the founder of The Writing Ranch, which offers workshops and retreats for established and emerging writers, and The Nature of Words, a literary arts nonprofit in Bend, Oregon, featuring an annual literary festival as well as creative writing workshops in regional schools, social welfare programs, and at its literary arts center’s Storefront Project. She also founded the Waterston Desert Writing Prize, which was adopted by the High Desert Museum in 2020. Her contributions to the Oregon literary landscape are invaluable, and we are honored to celebrate her at the 2024 Oregon Book Awards.

Q&A with Literary Arts

How do you view the connection between the literary arts and nature or the natural world?

As to writing and the close observation of nature, it seems to me the task is to inspire us all to see ourselves not in nature but of it; not observers of nature, but one among an infinite number of knee-buckling, complex, awesome, tragic manifestations of the natural world. Wherever the natural shows up on the page, in poetry or prose, fiction or non, may it be as direct a translation as possible of its (AKA our) beauty and fragility, inspiring us to preserve and protect, to take good care.

What are your most prominent sources of inspiration? Of joy?

I believe we’re led to the landscape that teaches us what we need to know . . . be it urban, rural, desert, or rain forest. In all its lanky, hardscrabble, empty-not-empty, and endlessly surprising glory, for me the high desert of Oregon is that teacher, is my muse. Rattling around within its vastness never fails to inspire me and bring great joy.

What does this award mean to you personally and professionally?

The line between personal and professional is a blurry one. On both counts receiving the Stewart H. Holbrook Award is at once hugely gratifying and humbling! It validates the work I’ve done to date as a writer and literary arts advocate in Oregon’s high desert region and motivates me to keep on keeping on. My sincere thanks to Literary Arts for a delicious moment of brava followed by “Get back to work! Time’s a wastin’!”

What is your biggest piece of advice for early-career writers?

Only one? I’d have to say show up . . . in the service of the best writing you can muster (and all the study and practice that implies) and of the audience eager to read your work. May your writing be, as author John Casey said, “a purpose to which the whole day bends.”

Do you have any book recommendations for fans of your work?

In keeping with Literary Arts’ celebration of Oregon authors, I recently joined some Oregon writers for a reading at Roundabout Books in Bend, all reading from new work. The common thread? Close observation of person in relationship to nature and vice versa.

  • John Daniel’s new collection of poetry, Lighted Distances: Four Seasons on Goodlow Rim
  • Jarold Ramsey’s latest poetry collection, Jump Straight Up
  • Charles Goodrich’s novel, Weave Me a Crooked Basket

Having recently heard her read an excerpt from her new book, I very much look forward to the launch of Judith Barrington’s Virginia’s Apple due out in September 2024.

Lastly, if you haven’t already, read Stronghold: One Man’s Quest to Save the World’s Wild Salmon by Portland, Oregon native Tucker Malarkey. She will be one of the featured guests at the Waterston Desert Writing Prize tenth annual awards ceremony. A program of the High Desert Museum, the event is scheduled for September. I hope you’ll come! www.highdesertmuseum.org

To learn more about Ellen, visit her website, explore her books, and join us at the 2024 Oregon Book Awards Ceremony!

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