Looking for traditional western fiction and nonfiction: check the yearly Spur awards

Western fiction and nonfiction, as I’m using them here, mean traditional books set in the American West, though “Spur Awards” is probably a good tip-off to that. The awards, which are announced in March by the Western Writers of America often include books that a more varied than the old shoot-em-up stereotype of earlier western novels.

You can find the winners on the organization’s website here, though a software glitch is keeping the lists of winners prior to 2022 from displaying.

According to the website, “Western Writers of America annually honors writers for distinguished writing about the American West with the Spur Awards. Since 1953 the Spur Awards have been considered one of the most prestigious awards in American literature. Spurs are given for the best western historical novel, best western traditional novel, best western contemporary novel, best short story, best short nonfiction. Also, best contemporary nonfiction, best biography, best history, best juvenile fiction and nonfiction, best drama, best documentary, and best first novel as well as best first nonfiction book.”

I’m especially interested in The Forgotten Botanist: Sara Plummer Lemmon’s Life of Science and Art by Wynne Brown which won a Spur for best biography this year. Books such as this are interesting for multiple reasons, one of them being they are great when an author is doing research. Even the titles of the winners and finalists can suggest new subjects for the curious author.

I’m also interested in Defending the Arctic Refuge: A Photographer, an Indigenous Nation, and a Fight for Environmental Justice by Finis Dunaway. The publisher’s description is more than enough to but this book on my TBR list: “Tucked away in the northeastern corner of Alaska is one of the most contested landscapes in all of North America: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Considered sacred by Indigenous peoples in Alaska and Canada and treasured by environmentalists, the refuge provides life-sustaining habitat for caribou, polar bears, migratory birds, and other species. For decades, though, the fossil fuel industry and powerful politicians have sought to turn this unique ecosystem into an oil field. Defending the Arctic Refuge tells the improbable story of how the people fought back. At the center of the story is the unlikely figure of Lenny Kohm (1939–2014), a former jazz drummer and aspiring photographer who passionately committed himself to Arctic Refuge activism.”

If you like traditional trapper, rancher, U.S. marshal, and other works, there’s a lot here to like, including Ridgeline, Dark Sky: A Joe Pickett Novel, and Cheyenne Summer: The Battle of Beecher Island: A History. 

Good stuff, if you know where to look.

Malcolm