2020 Spur Awards Announced

Encampment, WY – Documentarians Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, screenwriter John Fusco, and first-time novelist Shannon Pufahl are among this year’s Spur Award winners from Western Writers of America.

Winners and finalists will be honored June 17-20 at Western Writers of America’s convention in Rapid City, S.D.

Duncan’s Country Music: Episode Two: Hard Times (1933-1945) won for Best Documentary Script for the PBS miniseries, and his Country Music: An Illustrated History, cowritten with Burns and published by Alfred A. Knopf, won for Best Contemporary Nonfiction Book.

Fusco’s The Highwaymen (Netflix), won for Best Drama Script, while Pufahl’s On Swift Horses: A Novel (Riverhead) won for Best Contemporary Novel and Best First Novel.

Sandra Dallas won her fourth Spur, for Someplace to Call Home (Sleeping Bear Press) for Best Juvenile Fiction.

WWA promotes and honors the best in Western literature with the annual Spur Awards. Awards, for material published last year, are selected by a panel of judges and given for works whose inspiration, image, and literary excellence best represent the reality and spirit of the American West.

The full list of Winners and Finalists in the 2020 Contest:


Winner: Nighthawk Rising: A Biography of Accused Cattle Rustler Queen Ann Bassett of Brown’s Park by Diana Allen Kouris (High Plains Press)

Finalists: Washington Territory’s Grand Lady: The Story of Matilda (Glover) Koontz Jackson by Julie McDonald Zander (Chapters of Life Memory Books); Political Hell-Raiser: The Life and Times of Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana by Marc C. Johnson (University of Oklahoma Press)

Contemporary Nonfiction

Winner: Country Music: An Illustrated History by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns (Alfred A. Knopf)

Finalists: The Pale-Faced Lie: A True Story by David Crow (Sandra Jonas Publishing); Saving Grand Canyon: Dams, Deals, and a Noble Myth by Byron E. Pearson (University of Nevada Press)

Historical Nonfiction

Winner: Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power by Pekka Hämäläinen (Yale University Press)

Finalists: The Mormon Handcart Migration: “Tounge nor pen can never tell the sorrow” by Candy Moulton (University of Oklahoma Press); Terror on the Santa Fe Trail: Kit Carson and the Jicarilla Apache by Doug Hocking (TwoDot)

Contemporary Novel

Winner: On Swift Horses: A Novel by Shannon Pufahl (Riverhead Books)

Finalists: This Side of Night by J. Todd Scott (G.P. Putnam’s Sons); Sweep out the Ashes: A Novel by Mary Clearman Blew (Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press)

Historical Novel

Winner: A Forgotten Evil by Sheldon Russell (Cennan Books/Cynren Press)

Finalists: The Glovemaker: A Novel by Ann Weisgarber (Skyhorse Publishing); Cut Nose by Ron Schwab (Uplands Press/Leafcutter Publishing Group)

Mass-Market Paperback Novel

Winner: Hawke’s Target by Reavis Z. Wortham (Pinnacle/Kensington)

Finalists: Dark Territory by Terrence McCauley (Pinnacle/Kensington); The Cost of Dying by Peter Brandvold (Pinnacle/Kensington)

Romance Novel

Winner: The Yeggman’s Apprentice by C.K. Crigger (Wolfpack Publishing)

Finalists: This New Day: A Novel by Harlan Hague (Graycatbird Books); The Telegraph Proposal by Gina Welborn and Becca Whitham (Zebra/Kensington)

Traditional Novel

Winner: Cherokee America by Margaret Verble (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Finalists: Friends Call Me Bat by Paul Colt (Five Star Publishing); All Man’s Land by D. László Conhaim (Broken Arrow Press)

Juvenile Nonfiction

Winner: Spotted Tail by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Reycraft Books)

Juvenile Fiction 

Winner: Someplace to Call Home by Sandra Dallas (Sleeping Bear Press)

Finalists: Finding Home by Corinne Joy Brown (Loose Cayuse Productions); The Fang of Bonfire Crossing: Legends of Lost Causes, Book 2 by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers/Macmillan Children’s Books)

Storyteller/Illustrated Children’s Book

Winner: Let ’Er Buck: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion by author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrator Gordon C. James (Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group)

Finalists: Rowdy Randy by author Casey Day Rislov and illustrator Zachary Pullen (Casey Rislov Books); J is for Jackalope by author/illustrator Teal Blake (Ted Blake Studios)

Short Nonfiction

Winner: “‘Worry, USA’: Dude Ranch Advertising Looks East, 1915-1945” by Flannery Burke (Montana The Magazine of Western History)

Finalists: “‘If you had fought bravely I would have sung for you’: The Changing Roles of Cheyenne Women during Nineteenth Century Plains Warfare” by David Beyreis (Montana The Magazine of Western History); “China’s Lost Women in the Far West” by Lynne Yuan (Wild West)

Short Fiction

Winner: “The Medicine Robe” by Michael Zimmer, published in Contention and Other Frontier Stories (Five Star Publishing)

Finalists: “Legend” by Johnny D. Boggs, published in Hobnail and Other Frontier Stories (Five Star Publishing); “Return to Laurel” by John D. Nesbitt, published in Hobnail and Other Frontier Stories (Five Star Publishing)


Winner: “Three Kinds of Pleasure” by Mark Sanders, published in In a Good Time: Poems by Mark Sanders (WSC Press)

Finalists: “In Dog Dreams” by Karla K. Morton (New Ohio Review); “Towards a Letter of Application for Work at Lightning Creek Cattle Company, Wayne County, Nebraska” by Red Shuttleworth, published in Six Poems (Moses Lake Steel Supply)

Documentary Script

Winner: Country Music: Episode Two: Hard Times (1933-1945) by Dayton Duncan (WETA-TV/PBS)

Finalist: Cowboys: A Documentary Portrait by John Langmore and Bud Force (1922 Films)

Drama Script

Winner: The Highwaymen by John Fusco (Netflix)

Finalists: The Kid by Andrew Lanham (Mimran Schur Pictures); Eight Monologues from Americana West by Red Shuttleworth (Humanitas Media Publishing)

First Novel: On Swift Horses: A Novel by Shannon Pufahl (Riverhead Books)

First Nonfiction Book:The Pale-Faced Lie: A True Story by David Crow (Sandra Jonas Publishing)


No award given