The Desert Nights, Rising Stars
Writers Conference

Picture of Claire Vaye Watkins

Claire Vaye Watkins

Desert Nights Rising Stars Writers Conference Faculty, 2018

Claire Vaye Watkins was born and raised in the Mojave Desert. She is the author of Gold Fame Citrus and Battleborn, which won the Story Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Silver Pen Award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. She is an assistant professor in the Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan and the co-director, with Derek Palacio, of the Mojave School, a free creative writing workshop for teenagers in rural Nevada.

Selected Media

"A Vivid New Novel Takes On the California Drought: Claire Vaye Watkins Talks Gold Fame Citrus." Rebecca Bengal, Vogue (Sep 29, 2015).

"Like, was there a sense of, “Oh, can I publish this book before the whole book goes up in flames?” Well, what did happen, there was more of an aesthetic shift I had to do. When I first conceived of the book I thought it would be real out-there. Like, super speculative, oddball, exaggerated, grandiose, not realism at all. But what happened again and again was I would think of some crazy thing that could happen, like: What if there was a drain installed at the bottom of Lake Mead and they drained the lake like a bathtub? And I would discover, in fact, that project is nearing completion. Or, what if we dynamited the sky to try to get rain to fall? And then I would find out, Oh, yeah, something very similar happened in the Dust Bowl years, or this university got a grant to try to do this. So what I thought was crazy and super imaginative turned out to be already in swing in a way, and then I had to reckon with the fact that I was writing a more realistic book than I thought I was."

"On Pandering." Claire Vaye Watkins, Tin House (Nov 23, 2015).

"The Buffalo Valley smells like pig shit, puppy mills, or burning garbage, depending on which way the wind blows. It is not uncommon, when hiking, to come across a tarry black field where old-growth forest has been recently clear-cut, the ground still soaked with diesel. This all sounds pretty bleak, and it was, even to me, a person with a high tolerance for bleakness and an affection for abused landscapes. Living there, I can admit now that I’ve fled, corroded a part of my soul. Driving to a neighboring town for a prenatal checkup felt like driving through Capote’s In Cold Blood. During the time I lived in central Pennsylvania the adjective I used most to describe the place to faraway friends was 'murdersome.'"

"I Love You but I've Chosen Darkness." Claire Vaye Watkins, Granta 139 Best of Young American Novelists 3 (Apr 25, 2017).

"I spent the morning on myspace looking at pictures of my dead ex-boyfriend. The phrase my dead ex-boyfriend is syntactically ambiguous you can’t tell from it whether this boyfriend and I were together when he died. We were not. We’d been broken up for about two years. We were together for three then apart for two then he died. He died in a car crash that’s how he died."

"Claire Vaye Watkins on Growing Up Manson and 'Battleborn'." Claiborne Smith, The Daily Beast (Aug 04, 2012).

"The mythology of the West has always been fueled by its dramatic, vast land—long camera pans in John Ford films that make you ache for its rugged vistas and words like creosote, sagebrush, and sierras in the novels and stories of Wallace Stegner, William Kittredge, Annie Proulx, and Rick Bass.

Watkins uses those words too, but she is a new writer of the West, one who doesn’t rely so exclusively on depictions of landscape to reveal the character of the people who sometimes stubbornly live there. She is as comfortable writing in the past as she is about present-day Nevada, and she has a postmodern insight that the straight, omniscient story is never as revealing as the stories we tell one another to soothe ourselves. The West isn’t some exotic American myth in her stories; it’s a place where, as Watkins describes one of her characters, a person can keep “weighing herself down with stories and still feeling empty.”"


"Gold Mine." Claire Vaye Watkins, The Paris Review 195 (Winter 2010).

"This happens every summer. A tourist hikes into the desert outside Las Vegas without enough water and gets lost. Most of them die. This summer it’s an Italian, a student, twenty years old, according to the Nye County Register. Manny, the manager of the Cherry Patch Ranch, reads the story to Darla, his best girl, while they tan beside the pool in the long late sun."