Walter M. Robinson Wins River Teeth's 2020 Literary Nonfiction Book Prize

By Jill Christman

April 2, 2021

Walter M. Robinson Wins River Teeth's 2020 Literary Nonfiction Book Prize

We are delighted to announce that Walter M. Robinson has won the 2020 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Book Prize. His winning manuscript, What Cannot Be Undone, will be published by the University of New Mexico Press in Spring 2022. All entries were screened by the editors and our guest judge, Megan Stielstra, chose a winner from among many exceptional manuscripts. River Teeth is grateful to the many writers who submitted their books to this year’s competition and to Megan Stielstra for the difficult service of choosing among them.

In her note on the winning manuscript, Stielstra writes of Dr. Robinson’s book What Cannot Be Undone, “[What] Dr. Robinson’s beautiful book gave to me. . . was the deep humanity of the people called to save our lives. These bodies of ours, so fragile but still powerful, a ‘tough-as-nails darling.’ It was a gift and a relief, to see the human being inside of our desperately complicated systems of mortality in both near-cinematic visceral detail (‘I want to put my fingers in the cut to know it is real’) and profound reflection—faith, fear, ethics. The core heart of the book hit me here: ‘Listen to me: a clinical report will not do here. It will not do for Donna. It will no longer do for me.’ If we're going to understand what's happening to healthcare in this country—to life and death—we need to understand its people. We need What Cannot Be Undone.”

Walter M. Robinson is a writer and physician in Massachusetts. He is a founding editor for EastOver Press and Cutleaf, an online literary journal. His essays have appeared in wildness, Months To Years, AGNI, Ruminate, The Sun, The Literary Review, and Harvard Review. He has been a fellow at MacDowell and Yaddo and was a 2015 PEN-New England "New Discovery in Non-Fiction.”  Three of his essays, “This Will Sting and Burn,” “White Cloth Ribbons,” and “Nurse Clappy Gets His,” have been “Notable Essays” in Best American Essays (2015, 2016, 2017). He was a member of the pediatrics and medical ethics faculty at Harvard, Dalhousie, and Vanderbilt, and his research has been supported by the National Library of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, and the Project on Death in America/Open Society Institute. More information is available at

Dr. Robinson will receive a $1,000 cash prize and What Cannot Be Undone will be published by the University of New Mexico Press in Spring 2022. His book will be the nineteenth selection in the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize series. Past series winners have gone on to win a PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for Art of the Essay, a Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award for Creative Nonfiction, a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, a Library Journal prize, a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, and a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Lesbian Memoir, among many other honors and citations.

A list of past winners can be found on our website and you can find their books on the University of New Mexico Press site and wherever you buy books. Look for our most recent titles, including our 2019 winner, The Rock Cycle by Kevin Honold, and the 2018 winner, Try to Get Lost by Joan Frank.

Warm congratulations also to our 2020 River Teeth Nonfiction Book Prize runner up and finalists:

Runner Up
Souvenirs from Paradise by Erin Langner

Three Finalists
Afterlight by Joshua Bernstein
How to Live by Kelle Groom
Swampitude by Quitman Marshall

Five Semi-Finalists
The Mothers by Rebe Huntman
Homemaker by Jessica Johnson
From Your Friend Carey Dean by Lisa Knopp
Poisons of War by Sabrina Veroczi
The Mary Years by Julie Marie Wade

The 2021 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Book Prize will be open for submissions August 1 – October 31, 2021. We look forward to reading your manuscript!

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