Memoir on Water Woes Named Outstanding Western Book by WT’s CSAW

Brian Ingrassia Sep 08, 2022
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Memoir on Water Woes Named Outstanding Western Book by WT’s CSAW

CONTACT: Chip Chandler, 806-651-2124,



CANYON, Texas — A University of Oklahoma professor’s memoir about the water crisis at his family farm in Kansas—and the surrounding region—is the 2022 Outstanding Western Book from the Center for the Study of the American West at West Texas A&M University.

Dr. Lucas Bessire’s “Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains,” a National Book Award finalist, is “an urgent and unsettling meditation on environmental change,” according to Princeton University Press, which published the book in 2021.

Bessire is tentatively scheduled to speak at WT in the spring; details are forthcoming.

“It is a real honor to have my book recognized by colleagues at the Center for the Study of the American West, especially given our shared commitments to the peoples, lands and futures of the Great Plains,” Bessire said. “I look forward to our upcoming conversation.”  

CSAW has given the Bonney McDonald Outstanding Western Book Award annually since 2019.

Promoting regional research is a key aim of the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.

That plan is fueled by the historic, $125 million One West comprehensive fundraising campaign. To date, the five-year campaign — which publicly launched Sept. 23 — has raised more than $110 million.

“Running Out” is a memoir that utilizes the author’s anthropological training as well as generations-deep connections to farming and ranching in western Kansas to explore wider issues related to water conservation and usage in rural communities across America. Bessire is professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma.

“Readers interested in water policy, the Panhandle region, and climate change will benefit from this book, which also considers the evolving notion of the family farm and helps readers contemplate what roles nostalgia and memory play in the way we think about the West, the farm, and family,” said Dr. Megan Birk, professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and member of CSAW’s award committee.

“Anyone who values the High Plains and is concerned about the future of its environment will find Bessire’s account relatable,” said Dr. Timothy Bowman, head of WT’s Department of History and CSAW award committee member. “It is both informative and beautifully written.”

The Bonney MacDonald CSAW Award for Outstanding Western Book is named for a beloved and long-serving professor of English at WT. It is a juried prize recognizing books that demonstrate excellent scholarly or creative insight concerning the American West or some aspect of its history, culture, society or environment. Of particular interest are books geographically relevant to the Southern Plains region and/or the concerns of a Southern Plains regional readership, as well as works that balance scholarly and creative excellence with accessible style or popular appeal.

Dr. Alex Hunt, CSAW director, Regents Professor of English and Vincent-Haley Professor of Western Studies, praised the selection.

“I’m so pleased that the award committee is honoring a book that has vast importance to the region’s future and also is a pleasure to read for a broad audience,” Hunt said. “It’s precisely the kind of book that CSAW wants to celebrate.”

The runner-up for the award is Cameron Blevins’s “Paper Trails: The U.S. Post and the Making of the American West” (Oxford University Press, 2021), a study of the essential role that the postal system, especially post offices and postmasters, played in the formation and growth of the western United States during the late 19th century.

Books on the American West published in 2022 can be submitted for consideration for the 2023 MacDonald Award. Deadline is Jan. 15. More information can be found at


About the Center for the Study of the American West

CSAW was formed in fall 2016 with a mission of fostering the study of the American West at West Texas A&M University and building bridges between the university, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum and the regional populace. CSAW seeks to promote the American West both as a culturally unique region and as a product of broad historical forces. For more information about CSAW and upcoming events, please visit


About West Texas A&M University

WT is located in Canyon, Texas, on a 342-acre residential campus. Established in 1910, the University has been part of The Texas A&M University System since 1990. WT, a Hispanic Serving Institution since 2016, boasts an enrollment of about 10,000 and offers 59 undergraduate degree programs and more than 40 graduate degrees, including two doctoral degrees. The University is also home to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state and the home of one of the Southwest’s finest art collections. The Buffaloes are a member of the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference and offers 14 men’s and women’s athletics programs.