Creative Nonfiction Finalists

April 18th is the deadline to cast your vote for the Reader's Choice Award. The winner of the Readers Choice Award will be announced at the Oregon Book Awards ceremony on April 25th.

Featured below are excerpts from the five finalists for the Sarah Winnemucca Award For Creative Nonfiction

I first visited the Galápagos in 1990 as a young journalist on assignment for a national magazine. Like most visitors, I felt that I was entering a primordial dreamscape where time and space had stood still. From the shore of Floreana Island, I watched a school of spotted eagle rays wing through the waves like butterflies. In the darkness of night, bottlenose dolphins frolicked beside our tour boat, their fins sparkling with bioluminescence—living light from microscopic organisms. I quickly realized that I had come to Las Encantadas (the Enchanted Islands), as the early Spanish explorers called the archipelago. In the skies above North Seymour Island male frigate birds floated on thermals, their throats puffed out like giant red balloons to attract mates. But what struck me most was the baby sea lion on Santiago Island that trailed me like a puppy and sniffed at my shoes, not knowing what to make of me. As I gazed one day out to sea I spotted a lone sea turtle plowing through the waves like a dark leviathan. Perhaps this is what Darwin saw when he wrote that in the Galápagos, “both in time and space, we seem to be brought near to that great fact—the mystery of mysteries—the first appearance of new beings on this earth.

from Galapagos at the Crossroads(National Geographic)
by Carol Ann Bassett


I . . . often ask myself why I like [video games] as much as I do, especially when, very often, I hate them. Sometimes I think I hate them because of how purely they bring me back to childhood, when I could only imagine what I would do if I were single-handedly fighting off an alien army or driving down the street in a very fast car while the police try to shoot out my tires or told that I was the ancestral inheritor of some primeval sword and my destiny was to rid the realm of evil. These are very intriguing scenarios if you are twelve years old. They are far less intriguing if you are thirty-five and have a career, friends, a relationship, or children. The problem, however, at least for me, is that they are no less fun. I like fighting aliens and I like driving fast cars. Tell me the secret sword is just over the mountain and I will light off into goblin-haunted territory to claim it. For me, video games often restore an unearned, vaguely loathsome form of innocence--an innocence derived of not knowing anything. For this and all sorts of other complicated historical reasons--starting with the fact that they began as toys directly marketed to children--video games crash any cocktail-party rationale you attempt to formulate as to why, exactly, you love them. More than any other form of entertainment, video games tend to divide rooms into Us and Them. We are, in effect, admitting that we like to spend our time shooting monsters, and They are, not unreasonably, failing to find the value in that.

from Extra Lives(Pantheon Books) by Tom Bissell


It’s a tough thrash up the last few feet of the tallest trees, squeezing through thickets of small limbs, getting scratches on my arms and bark bits in my eyes, my hands blackened with redolent pitch. I can’t climb to the very top, because at the top there is no tree—only a limber sapling dripping with pitch, sometimes studded with clenched green cones. Eleven feet in circumference near ground level, the tree rises half the length of a football field to top out in a singular needled spire, of the kind you cap with an angel at Christmas time. The tree does not leave its youth behind. The tree preserves and exalts it, lifts it skyward as the center of its great candelabra crown. To spend a moment just short of the top—the lofti­est landing my body can reach, the highest limit of my home ground—looking down on roof and garden and stream bottom, on neighboring fields and scalped and wooded ridges beyond, is to sense again my own young self, to find him smiling within the aches and stiffness and rutted habits of my sixty years.

fromThe Far Corner (Counterpoint Press) by John Daniel



Miriam helped me arrange the black robe over my shoulders and head. I’d worn a scarf but hadn’t thought to wear long sleeves, so the attendant loaned me a wad of fabric that unfolded into a hooded robe. Every other woman visiting the mosque that day wore her own street clothes. I tried to blend in, but somehow I always missed Islamic propriety by an inch of sleeve or the slip of a scarf. The borrowed robe singled me out as the foreigner, the outsider. Instead of covering and equalizing, the black fabric exposed me. I was not a Muslim. In bare feet we followed the cold tile corridor to the mausoleum where it is said the martyr’s bones lie enshrined. The only furnishing in that vast room was Saida Zainab’s tomb. It stood like a great throne in the sweeping hall where icy white and blue tiles covered the many arches, walls, and supporting pillars. Chandeliers hung from the high domed ceiling. Steel grillwork made up four sides of the structure, as large as a Bedouin tent, and a lone worshiper stood next to it, a woman wearing an embroidered robe like one of Aaron’s priests, her lips moving in silent supplication. Instead of the Ark of the Covenant, she tended a casket. When she reached out to touch its holiness, she did not die.

from Through the Veil (Canon Press) by Lisa Ohlen Harris


Now, back home in my ordinary little house, roof ticking under the usual spring rain, I’m thinking about sardines. To see the blue flash of sardines for the first time, to see it with new eyes—there is no escaping the wonder of it. But doesn’t the world offer more? What if I could see the familiar world as if I had never seen it before, even if I see it every day—with that wonderment and surprise? Or what if I could see it as if I would never see it again? Then imagine the glory. I’m thinking it’s a paltry sense of wonder that requires something new every day. I confess: wonder is easy when you travel to desert islands in search of experiences you have never imagined, in search of something you have never seen before, in search of wonder, the shock of surprise. It’s easy, and maybe it’s cheap. It’s not what the world asks of us. To be worthy of the astonishing world, a sense of wonder will be a way of life, in every place and time, no matter how familiar: to listen in the dark of every night, to praise the mystery of every returning day, to be astonished again and again and again, to be grateful with an intensity that cannot be distinguished from joy.

from Wild Comfort(Pantheon Books) by Kathleen Dean Moore