All Classical Radio James Depreist

Bend poet Ellen Waterston honored with Soapstone Bread and Roses Award and Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award in 2024

The founder of the Waterston Desert Writing Prize and the Writing Ranch will receive the Holbrook award during the April 8 Oregon Book Awards ceremony.


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Author Ellen Waterston will be honored with the Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award during the Oregon Book Awards on April 8.

After ten hours of trying
the instructor undid
my fingers, peeled
them one by one
off the joystick.
“You don’t need
to hold the plane
in the air,” he advised.
“It’s designed to fly.
A hint of aileron,
a touch of rudder,
is all that is required.”

I looked at him
like I’d seen God.
Those props and struts
he mentioned, they too,
I realized, all contrived.
I grew dizzy
from the elevation
from looking so far
down at the surmise:
the airspeed of faith
underlies everything.
Lives are designed
to fly.

Designed to Fly from Between Desert Seasons by Ellen Waterston

On International Women’s Day earlier this month, Ellen Waterston was awarded the Soapstone Bread and Roses Award from the 32-year-old grassroots organization. In addition to supporting women writers and providing access to writing residencies on the Oregon Coast, Soapstone developed the Bread and Roses Award to annually honor a woman whose work has aided in sustaining the writing community.

The organization honored Waterston with flowers, a stipend, and a luncheon for her extensive career “creating a vibrant literary life east of the Cascades” and spotlighting the literature of the high desert. She was commended for mentoring others while continuing to write poetry and nonfiction works that have evolved into essential reading about Oregon and the West. Waterston joins previous recipients Eleanor Berry (2023), Carla Perry (2022), Maureen Michelson (2021), Leanne Grabel (2020), and Barbara LaMorticella (2019).

Waterston is having an accoladed year. On April 8, Literary Arts is scheduled to give her the 2024 Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award during the Oregon Book Awards ceremony. The award, named for Portland-born author, storyteller, historian, and journalist Stewart H. Holbrook, “is presented to a person or organization in recognition of significant contributions that have enriched Oregon’s literary community,” according to the Literary Arts website. Previous award recipients include Kim Stafford, Paulann Petersen, Marlene Howard, and most recently, Gary Miranda in 2023.

The book awards will be hosted by Kwame Alexander, New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Why Fathers Cry at Night, and take place at Portland Center Stage at The Armory. Tickets are available on the Literary Arts website.


All Classical Radio James Depreist

Ellen Waterston performs her poetry as part of “In a Landscape” with classical pianist Hunter Noack on Mount Bachelor in Bend in 2022.

Waterston loves the high desert with depth and dedication. She is the author of regional guides, poetry collections, essays, and a memoir — each encompassing the desert’s lure — including Walking the High Desert: Encounters with Rural America Along the Oregon Desert Trail; Where the Crooked River Rises; Between Desert Seasons; and Then There Was No Mountain. She converted her poetry and verse novel, Vía Láctea, A Woman of a Certain Age Walks the Camino, into a libretto, and it premiered as a full-length opera. Her poetry collection Hotel Domilocos sends the reader on a trip from Oregon to the tropics, “offering us her full attention to ordinary lives in places as diverse as Costa Rica and her high desert home in Oregon … letting us see how one dwells in the world and how we too could find care in uncertain times,” poet Bill Siverly said of the work.

This year, the High Desert Museum in Bend will continue its tradition of awarding the Waterston Desert Writing Prize, founded by Waterston and adopted by the museum in 2020, to honor excellence in literary nonfiction about deserts. Submissions for the prize are open through May 1. The award will be given during a Sept. 26 ceremony, featuring keynote speaker Tucker Malarkey and actor (and Waterston’s brother) Sam Waterston.

Through profound observation of the ecological world, Waterston seeks to understand it by becoming part of it. Wherever the natural appears in writing, she explained in a recent interview with Literary Arts, it should do its best to relate closely a beauty and fragility, and inspire us to preserve, protect, and take good care of the natural world.

Waterston’s work is not only timely and educational, but also captivating. Her sentences transport the reader to the Oregon desert, and like a love potion, fill the reader with admiration for the region. For example, an excerpt from Waterston’s Walking the High Desert reads:

Those who have never been to Oregon imagine the whole state rainy and green, like Portland or Seattle, and believe that the Portlandia culture made popular by the sketch comedy television series characterizes all ninety-eight thousand square miles of this northwestern wonderland. In fact, three-quarters of the state is dry and separated from “the valley,” as the western portion is referred to, by the majestic High Cascades, all dormant volcanoes, at least for now. They block the rains from coming east, keep the high desert the high desert. Where I live, in Bend, at the foot of the Cascades on the eastern side, the average annual rainfall is twelve inches a year.

In addition to her writings, Waterston founded the Writing Ranch in 2000 to offer multi-day generative workshops and retreats for literary artists at varying points in their careers. Participants have called the program “wonderful,” “deep and sacred,” and “one of the richest writing experiences” they have taken part in.


Oregon Cultural Trust

Waterston was also founder and executive director of The Nature of Words, a nonprofit featuring an annual literary arts festival in Bend. She is the recipient of poetry awards including the WILLA Literary Award in Poetry in 2005 and 2009 and the Obsidian Prize for Poetry in 2008, and was awarded an honorary Ph.D. by Oregon State University Cascades for her accomplishments. She is a member of the OSU Cascades MFA Low Residency program faculty.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Amy Leona Havin is a poet, essayist, and arts journalist based in Portland, Oregon. She writes about language arts, dance, and film for Oregon ArtsWatch and is a staff writer with The Oregonian/OregonLive. Her work has been published in San Diego Poetry Annual, HereIn Arts Journal, Humana Obscura, The Chronicle, and others. She has been an artist-in-residence at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Archipelago Gallery, and Art/Lab, and was shortlisted for the Bridport International Creative Writing Prize in poetry. Havin holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornish College of the Arts and is the Artistic Director of Portland-based dance performance company, The Holding Project.


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