By Published: April 30, 2020

The Center of the American West awards the 21st annual Thompson Awards for Western American Writing


Family lore, conflicting heritages, the smell of Nag Champa, the Rocky Mountain snowpack, and a pink plantation loveseat. 

The American West can take on different forms, and for this year’s recipients of the 2020 Thompson Writing Awards, these topics encapsulate what the West means to them.

The Thompson Writing Awards, endowed by Jack (Hist’64) and Jeannie (Zool’64) Thompson in 2004, are given out annually by the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado Boulder in recognition of outstanding student writing that pertains in some way—whether that be geographically speaking or the ethos—to the American West.

Winners receives $500 per piece and are invited to read their work at a reception, which was held this year over zoom on April 29, 2020.

“I think the Thompson Writing Awards are a terrific opportunity to recognize student writers. Some of them are very good writers and the winners are always top-notch,” said Sandra Laursen, senior research associate and director of Ethnography & Evaluation Research at CU Boulder’s Center to Advance Research and Teaching in the Social Sciences, and one of this year’s judges.

This year’s winners include:

Creative Non-Fiction

Amorina Lee-Martinez

PhD candidate, environmental studies

Learning How to Be a Good Ancestor

Undergraduate Academic Non-Fiction

Maisy Weiss

Bachelor of Arts candidate, geography and ecology and evolutionary biology

Rocky Mountain Snowpack

Poetry

Ethan Glenn Robinson

Bachelor of Arts candidate, creative writing

What Comes and Goes in Merino Colorado

Undergraduate Fiction

Ethan Glenn Robinson

Bachelor of Arts candidate, creative writing

The Hand in the Hayloft

Memoir

Breanne Marie Pye

MFA candidate, creative writing

Please Take Me With You

“The Thompson Writing Awards really highlight the uniqueness of the American West,” said Charles Scoggin, a physician, emeritus board member for the Center of the American West, and one of this year’s judges. 

“I really want to salute the Thompsons for their very generous support of this program. It’s wonderful to have people that spent their lives in higher education that have been willing to both put their name and their treasurer to work to encourage this kind of opportunity.”

Honorable mentions include Vanessa Gabel for her memoir, “Highway Prison,” and Liyu Berhanu for her non-fiction essay, “Black Cowboys: Ned Logan and the Portrayal of Blackness in Unforgiven.”

Judges for this year’s awards are as follows:

Creative Non-Fiction: Laursen; James E. Fell, Department of History, University of Colorado Denver; and Albert Hand, retired lawyer and board member for the Center of the American West.

Graduate Academic Non-Fiction: David E. Meens, director for the Office of Outreach and Engagement; Richard J. Meisinger, retired associate vice president for academic affairs for the University of Illinois system; and JoAnn Silverstein, Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, Center of the American West Board Member and Faculty Council member.

Graduate Fiction: Andrew Cowell, director, Center for Native American and Indigenous Studies at CU Boulder; Catherine Kunce, senior instructor, Program for Writing and Rhetoric, Center of the American West Faculty Affiliate; and Finn Murphy, author of the national bestseller, The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tale of Life on the Road.

Memoir: Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz, chair of the Department of Cinema Studies and Moving Image Arts, Center of the American West Faculty Affiliate; Katie King, Skyline High School history teacher, James Madison Memorial Foundation fellow; and Tamar V.S. McKee, anthropologist, manager, Stephen H. Hart Research Center, History Colorado, and founder and owner, Khala and Company.

The Thompson Writing Awards really highlight the uniqueness of the American West"

Poetry: Kit Armstrong, University of Colorado Boulder class of 2017, Center of the American West Certificate Alum; Buzzy Jackson, writer, historian and educator, book critic for the Boston Globe, Author of The Inspirational Atheist; and Malinda Miller, assistant dean for communications and engagement, College of Media, Communication and Information.

Undergraduate Academic Non-Fiction: Douglas Bamforth, archaeologist, chair of the Department of Anthropology, Center of the American West Faculty Affiliate; Bud Coleman, director of the CU in D.C. Internship Program, Roe Green Professor of Theatre, Center of the American West Faculty Council Member; and Debbie Frazier, former Rocky Mountain News reporter, former communications director for Colorado Natural Resources Department, author of Colorado’s Hot Springs.

Undergraduate Fiction: Scoggin; Jay Ellis, Journal Twenty Twenty faculty advisor and novelist, Center of the American West Faculty Affiliate; and Alison Richards, calligrapher.

Discover past recipients of the award on the Center of the American West’s website.