Congratulations to our very own Deanne Stillman, winner of the Spur Award for her excellent book Desert Reckoning:
Author Deanne Stillman, a member of the core faculty at the UC Riverside-Palm Desert Low Residency M.F.A. Creative Writing Program, has won the 2013 Spur Award for best Western contemporary nonfiction for her book “Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit and the Biggest Manhunt in Modern California History.”
The Western Writers of America will present the award June 29 at the literary organization’s 60th annual convention in Las Vegas. Spurs are awarded for the best Western novel (short novel), best novel of the West (long novel), best original paperback novel, best short story, best short nonfiction, best contemporary nonfiction, best biography, best history, best juvenile fiction and nonfiction, best TV or motion picture drama, best TV or motion picture documentary, and best first novel. Previous winners include Larry McMurtry for “Lonesome Dove,” Michael Blake for “Dances With Wolves,” Glendon Swarthout for “The Shootist,” and Tony Hillerman for“Skinwalker.”
“Deanne is one of the foremost chroniclers of the desert Southwest and this award, one of the grandest in the literary world, further confirms her place in the canon and ‘Desert Reckoning’ is perhaps her finest work,” said Tod Goldberg, administrative director of UCR’s Low Residency M.F.A. in Creative Writing and for the Performing Arts. “It’s a visceral examination of a life lived on the fringe of society and the remarkable manhunt that finally brought justice to a horrific murder. There’s not a better writer of narrative nonfiction working than Deanne Stillman and we’re proud to have her as part of our core faculty.”
“Desert Reckoning” is based on a 2005 article Stillman wrote for Rolling Stone about the 2003 murder of Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Steve Sorensen by desert hermit Don Kueck in the Antelope Valley and the ensuing manhunt.
“The desert is a main character in all of my work, and my books — narrative nonfiction — are stories of war and peace in the modern West,” Stillman said. As she wrote in her book “Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West,” “In the desert, I get quiet and I hear things. The beating of wings. The scratching of lizards. The whisper of stories that want to be told.”
Much of Stillman’s work concerns the Mojave Desert and the Inland Empire. Part of “Desert Reckoning” takes place in Riverside. “Twentynine Palms, A True Story of Murder, Marines and the Mojave” tells the story of two girls killed in Twentynine Palms by a Marine after the Gulf War. The book was recently published in its fourth edition and is taught in college literature classes around the country.
Award-winning author Gayle Brandeis, writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books about “Desert Reckoning,” said, “One of the greatest gifts of this book is how Deanne Stillman is able to open our hearts to people we might otherwise judge or dismiss. She never denies that Don Kueck committed a heinous act of murder, but she paints him as deeply human, capable of kindness and intelligence and an almost mystical connection to the landscape despite the demons that plagued him. Sorensen is clearly the ‘good guy’ of the standoff, but he, too, is shown in a very human light; Stillman lets us see his jealous rages, his inability to take a joke, as well as his abiding desire to help people. She lets us marvel at the contradictions within each of these men, and the points of intersection between them — especially their shared love of animals and the Mojave, including their shared view of the Three Sisters Buttes … .
“… (O)ne can’t help but be filled with gratitude and awe toward Deanne Stillman — her clear eye, the depth of her research, her brave and compassionate imagination. She takes us on a journey as full of desolation and grandeur as the desert itself.”
Stillman’s book “Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West” was named a “best book” in 2008 by the Los Angeles Times and won the California book Award silver medal for nonfiction. It is under option for a film starring Wendie Malick. “Twentynine Palms” was a Times “best book” for 2001.
Stillman’s reporting, essays and commentary have appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Slate, Salon, Orion, Tin House and The Rumpus. She also writes the “Letter From the West” column for Truthdig, and has written for television and film. Her plays “Pray for Surf,” “Star Maps” and “Inside the White House” have won prizes in major theater festivals around the country, and her work is widely anthologized.