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Lizbeth Meredith interviews Stuart Archer Cohen, author of 17 Stone Angels

49 Writers - 16 hours 57 min ago
Stuart Archer Cohen
How did you choose your first lines in the book?Part of my research in Buenos Aires was steeping myself in the expedientes of several murders committed by the police.  These were huge case files made available to me by a lawyer who was one of my sources.  They can run to several hundred pages, in Spanish, and contain the coroner’s reports, chain of evidence documentation, statements by police and witnesses, usually some photos, all covered with signatures and seals and laid out in this sort of distant, rock-solid language that would lead you to believe that it’s absolute truth.  And of course, in a department like the Bonairense, which at that time was just murderously corrupt, it can be complete fiction.  But I loved the language, the way it reduced all the horror and the very fragile human element of a murder to something matter-of-fact and emotionless.  That language really shaped the first lines, and I returned to that phenomenon a little later in the book when Fortunato is reviewing the expediente of the murder he committed at the same time that he relives those events in his head in a far less dispassionate manner.In your acknowledgements section, your reference murder victims Jose Luis Cabezas and Argentine author Rodolfo Jorge Walsh whose murders were unresolved at the time of this printing. How did you learn of them, and did these murders inspired your writing of 17 Stone Angels?I had done a lot of reading about Argentine urban guerillas of the 1970’s, which later informed my novel about insurgency in the United States, The Army of the Republic.  More specifically, Rodolfo Walsh was a famous Argentine journalist and author, whose great book, Operation Massacre, I had read.  Walsh was ambushed and murdered by a military death squad in 1977. Some of his killers were finally brought to justice decades later, after the book was written.  Operation Massacre was an inspiration because it focuses on both the human element and the bureaucratic aspects of official murder.The case of Jose Luis Cabezas was a cause celebre in the years before I wrote the book.  Cabezas was a photographer who, apparently, was kidnapped by police at the behest of a wealthy businessman/racketeer whose photo he had taken.  The mechanics of his murder closely resemble the murder in the book.  I should add that his killers were convicted just before the book came out, but nearly all were back on the street in a few years.Buenos Aires is an important character in your book. Tell us about how your own relationship with Buenos Aires began? Who helped you keep the representation of Buenos Aires factual while writing your work of fiction? Describe that process, please.I was traveling in Peru in 1984 and became friends with an Argentine I met there.  When I started doing business in Uruguay, I would stop and visit him in Buenos Aires every year for about 15 years.  He lives in a lower-class barrio in the exurbs of the city, which has a less cosmopolitan, more working-class culture than the center of the city.  Much of the book is set in that barrio, San Justo.  When it came time to do the research, I was fortunate because he had good connections with petty criminals, so I had people I could more or less trust as my guides to that world.  I hung out in some of the most down-and-out bars you can imagine and did stuff I don’t tell my kids about.  I still had to tread carefully because it’s a volatile environment, but it gave me a window into a world that doesn’t admit outsiders easily.  I still hang out with some of those people when I get down to Buenos Aires.  It’s always good to have a few disreputable friends.I read that this book was first published in the UK ten years ago, and was optioned with a movie company with Tom Cruise that never came to fruition. Tell us about how you kept your faith in this project while navigating the long and winding road toward publication in the States.
The book kept getting translated and published in new countries as the years went by, so I never really lost faith in it, as a book.  I always felt it would be published in the United States, and I’m grateful that Four Winds Press has done such an excellent job with it.  At the same time, I had other books to write and those are always more important than one that is already finished.
The movie deal was both encouraging and clarifying.  It’s a nice vote of confidence, but as soon as you get that call from Hollywood you start to see a bigger, shinier You.  I’ve been through it three times, most recently with Oliver Stone, and I still get the same sense of excitement and grandiosity.  But ultimately, you have to decide what’s real and what’s not.  I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be a player of any sort.  The people in that game are in it 110% and they really want it.  Many of them dream of making a great movie.  I like novels better.  I like the austerity of working alone for years at a time and I like the freedom that brings.  It’s a temperament thing.  I also feel like I have a shot at writing an illuminating novel, while my chance of writing a great movie and seeing it produced is zero.   I get a big kick out of the Hollywood buzz, but it’s beneficial to the degree that I can keep it peripheral to my well-being.  Otherwise, it can be really heartbreaking.
What are you working on now?
 I am making the final corrections to This Is How It Really Sounds, a novel which St Martin’s Press is publishing in April, 2015.  It’s a huge breakthrough for me as a writer and I’m excited about it.  I’m also gathering momentum to begin a new novel about king salmon.
Anything else you would like us to know about you or 17 Stone Angels?
17 Stone Angels is my favorite of my three already-published novels.  When I wrote it I was living on my dwindling savings and I was in a pretty distressing financial situation.  My goal was to write it quickly and to not give a second thought to content or meaning.  You can sense that desperation when you read it.  I really wanted to write a cheap, shallow book, but finally, it ended up being about exactly that: the compromises we make to get by or get ahead, the fictions we create in our own lives that help us live with those compromises.  Most police thrillers are about good men getting to the truth about a crime.  This one is about a bad man getting to the truth about himself.  That’s what I think makes it worth reading, even for people who don’t read crime thrillers.  Which includes me, actually!

Stuart Archer Cohen is an American author and businessman who has written three works of fiction: Invisible World, 17 Stone Angels, and The Army of the Republic. He lives in Juneau, Alaska with his wife and two sons
Categories: Arts & Culture

JT Torres: Lost and Found: On the Alaska Quarterly Review

49 Writers - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 7:00am

I started reading Alaska Quarterly Reviewas an undergraduate creative writing student at University of Central Florida. Yes, Central Florida. I’m not sure whether I found the journal or the journal found me. My childhood was filled with dreams of mountains, despite being raised in a state so flat the majority of it sat below sea-level. I could never explain from where my yearning came. Anything titled Alaska would have attracted me. My connection with the state is on a different plane of understanding, one not bound by the limits of my reason. In that sense, I (subconsciously) found AQR.
On the other hand, my quest as an undergraduate was to master the craft of writing. I read everything that promised it could teach me something about this art. At the time, I was a clumsy stylist and wandering storyteller. I am probably still both of those things, but back then I was filled with optimism. I read everything with an insatiable hunger, wanting to absorb every poetic metaphor, every well-developed character, every surprising plot turn.
Jeanne Leiby was my first mentor. She served as Editor-in-Chief at The Florida Review and taught the first two Fiction Workshops I had ever taken. She taught me how to write sentences so that they snap, how to drive stories instead of describing routines. She always had some recently published work available to exemplify the element of craft I was learning. She was always timely.
She came into class one day thrilled about a story she had had accepted in the 2003 (vol. 20) edition of AQR. The story was called “Family Meeting.” I read and reread and reread her story, looking for the secret that made her sentences sing. Then I read other stories in the same edition. I remember how my imagination ran wild thinking about the diverse talent appearing in a journal published out of Alaska. Every few months, The Florida Review office would receive another edition of AQR. With their glossy covers of craggy spires and mystic meadows, their pages of riveting fiction, AQR captured my spirit and intellect. In that sense, AQR found me.
Not only did I want my own story in those pages one day, I wanted my body, mind, and soul to be in Alaska. My irrational childhood desires seemed somewhat attainable. I modeled my neophyte writing on the work I found in AQR; and while I wasn’t publishing my own stories, I learned how to analyze other stories well enough for Jeanne Leiby to invite me to serve on the editorial staff for The Florida Review.
Even with access to several national literary journals in Florida Review’s library, something kept drawing me back to that opalescent cover of rain-clouds crowning a mystical mountain’s peak. Maybe it was the promise of unthinkable possibility. After all, Jeanne Leiby was a Florida author, whose story was featured in this far away land’s journal. I kept writing. I kept imagining impossible thoughts.
The first story I ever sent out to journals was sent only to AQR. Of course, it was rejected. But the letter itself, a standard-issued response, seemed to provide some vindication for my efforts. The editors had, at the very least, written me back. Which meant they read my story! I was close enough to feel the cold blue of tundra frost. I remembered something Jeanne always said: “Writers write because they want to be read. Otherwise, why write at all?” She said this while discussing the importance of considering audience even when writing fiction, especially when writing fiction. I realized it then, when a standard-issued response that all submitters receive appeared to me as words of encouragement written only for me.
I continued to grow and learn because of my desire to be included in AQR.
Later, in 2011, while I was completing my MFA thesis, I learned that Jeanne Leiby passed away in a tragic car accident. Immediately after a former professor broke the news, I reread “Family Meeting,” feeling inspired by her all over again, listening to the snap of her sentences and the hum of her story’s engine.
There are recent talks of dismantling Alaska Quarterly Review. I would have never believed that a journal as prestigious as AQR, which can reach from one distant coast on this continent to the diametrical opposite, would not be valued at its own home. There isn’t much I can offer as a means to save the journal. I myself have, to this point, failed to gain inclusion in its pages, even though I did realize that irrational fantasy of living in Alaska. What I hope, then, is that more writers and readers alike pick up an edition of AQR before it’s too late. Feel inspired by some of the nation’s most elegant writers. Even if you’re not looking, let AQR find you.

JT Torres was born in Miami, Fla., where only legend told of winter. He imagined snow and mountains, the cloud-covered ground and steep blue peaks. He earned his MFA from Georgia College & State University. Four hundred miles north introduced him to flurries, which were colder than imagined–not the warm downy fluff that fell in his dreams. He bought his first coat. For a year, he lived in Colorado, where he taught composition at Front Range Community College. During that year, he had stories or essays published in The Rambler, Fiction Writer’s Review, Limestone, Brokenplate, Alimentum, Florida Review, Greensilk Journal, and A Capella Zoo. Winter had a positive effect, it seemed. But it wasn’t “winter” enough. (Did you know Boulder, CO averages 300 days of sunshine a year?) JT finally lived in Alaska, teaching composition at University of Alaska-Anchorage. The cold and dark became home. Currently, he is pursuing a PhD at Washington State University. His novella, "Nana's Guide to Illusion," will be included in VP&D House's Weathered Edge II.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Tlingit Language Learners Group

Juneau Public Library Blog - Sat, 08/30/2014 - 1:17pm
The Tlingit language learners group will not be meeting from September 1st through the 15th. Meetings will resume on Monday, September 15th at the Downtown Library from 6:00 to 7:00pm. The group will continue to meet every Monday, from 6:00 to 7:00pm in the large meeting room of the Downtown Library. No matter if you […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

Superintendent speaks out about student privacy rights

Juneau School District Announcements - Fri, 08/29/2014 - 2:40pm

Supe's On  - Welcome to the Superintendent's Blog

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Categories: Arts & Culture

Linda: 49 Writers Weekly Roundup

49 Writers - Fri, 08/29/2014 - 7:00am
As summer draws to a close, our thoughts turn to winter writing projects that will sustain us through the long, dark days. The new schedule of creative writing classes at 49 Writers is designed to both inspire and encourage you, while you hone your writerly skills and re-connect to your literary community.

The Anchorage season kicks off October 1 and runs through November: click here for information about our fall faculty. We are also offering a special Southeast Alaska program in September--see below for details if you live in the vicinity of Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan or Craig. For information on Juneau activities during the season, check our website here.

We have planned three Reading & Craft Talks at Great Harvest Bread Co. in Anchorage, highlighting new work from David Stevenson (Sept. 11), Susanna Mishler (Oct. 16), and Lee Goodwin (Nov. 6). Our fall Crosscurrents event will take place at the Anchorage Museum during Alaska Book Week, (Oct. 6) and address the topic, "Would the Real Alaska Please Stand Up?" Departing from our usual format, this evening features a panel of distinguished Alaskan authors that includes Joan Naviyuk Kane, Seth Kantner, Peggy Shumaker, and Deb Vanasse, as well as illustrator Beth Rearden Hill. Please join us in congratulating Joan Kane, who we hear has just won the American Book Award for Hyperboreal, her second collection of poetry that already won AWP's Donald Hall Prize for Poetry.

Seth KantnerThis fall's selection of half-day classes includes Children's Books: Writing, Illustrating, Publishing (Oct. 4) with Deb Vanasse, Seth Kantner, and Beth Hill; Our Stories and Their Songs (Oct. 11) with Jonathan Bower; Complex & Conflicted Characters: What's in Your Character's Pocket? (Nov. 1) with Don Rearden (well-received in Juneau this spring); and Composition by Juxtaposition (Nov. 22) with Caroline Goodwin, formerly of Sitka and current Poet Laureate of San Mateo County, CA. Caroline will also teach this class in Juneau (Monday, Dec. 1).

If you are looking for a longer learning commitment, Douglass Bourne will be teaching Claiming Your Place, a five-week series for writers in all genres that begins October 2. Fresh from her success as an instructor for our Anchorage Remembers memoir project (many students have told me how much they enjoyed Judith's workshops and how much they learned from her), Judith Conte will be offering a six-session series called Memoir Matters.

Frank Soos, who last fall taught the popular Art of the Essay class twice, is back with an Essay Workshop for those students who have completed a piece started in or since that class a year ago. Participants will critique each others work in the first session (Nov. 8-9) and discuss revisions a month later (Dec. 6-7).

Caroline Goodwin will teach
in Anchorage and JuneauWe are especially excited to announce our first online class this season, taught by 49 Writers co-founder Andromeda Romano-Lax. Andromeda spent most of her time in Asia  this past year but she's back in Alaska and ready to roll with two new creative writing offerings! Achieve lift-off with a jump-started or re-started novel in Your Novel Now: The First Six Weeks, a class that will emphasize quick-drafting, supplemented with discussion of craft and process. So long as you have Internet access, you can participate! Plan to dedicate at least one hour a day to drafting new work with the goal of writing the first 10,000 words or more of a rough draft and learning more about your own best writing processes.

Finally, if you're one of the writers who has requested help in writing sex scenes that avoid cheesy metaphors and purple prose, your wait is over: Andromeda has stepped up to teach Writing the Intimate and Explicit on Wednesdays, October 4-22.

Visit our website for more details and to register now!

David StevensonSeptember events at 49 Writers

Click here for full details of the Crosscurrents Southeast program featuring Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes, funded in part by the Alaska Humanities Forum and National Endowment for the Arts. All activities are free but pre-registration is required for the workshops.
  • Friday, Sept. 5-Sunday, Sept. 7: Tutka Bay Writers Retreat with Carolyn Forché
  • Thursday, Sept. 11, 7pm, Great Harvest Bread Company: Reading & Craft Talk by David Stevenson--"Letters from Chamonix: Teasing Fiction from Fact."
  • Friday, Sept. 19, 7pm, UAS, Egan Lecture Hall, Juneau: Crosscurrents with Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes, "Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn: Cultural Appropriation in Alaskan Writing" (Evening at Egan)
  • Saturday, Sept. 20, 1-4pm, UAS Glacier View Room, Juneau: Workshop with Sherry Simpson
    "Autogeography: Mapping Our Lives" 
  • Sunday, Sept. 21, 3pm, Douglas Public Library: Reading by Sherry Simpson, "The Unseen Bear"
  • Monday, Sept. 22, 7pm, Naa Kahidi Community House, Sitka: Crosscurrents with Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes, "Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn: Cultural Appropriation in Alaskan Writing"
  • Tuesday, Sept. 23, 6-9pm, Yaw Chapel, Sheldon Jackson Campus, Sitka: Creative Writing Workshop with Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes, "The Story and the Music: Fresh Approaches to Familiar Places"
  • Wednesday, Sept. 24, 7pm, Ketchikan Public Library: Crosscurrents with Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes, "Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn: Cultural Appropriation in Alaskan Writing"
  • Thursday, Sept. 25, 6-9pm, Ketchikan Public Library: Creative Writing Workshop with Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes, "The Story and the Music: Fresh Approaches to Familiar Places"
  • Friday, Sept. 26, 7pm, Craig Public Library: Crosscurrents with Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes, "Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn: Cultural Appropriation in Alaskan Writing"
  • Saturday, Sept. 27, 9am-12pm, Craig Public Library: Creative Writing Workshop with Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes, "The Story and the Music: Fresh Approaches to Familiar Places"
Events in Anchorage

Tomorrow, Saturday, Aug. 30, 1-4pm, Barnes & Noble: Author AdriAnne Strickland will be signing her debut YA sci-fi/fantasy, Wordless. Stop by to meet her and learn more about her work.

Thursday, Sept. 4, 7pm, Z.J. Loussac Library, Public Conference Room: The Alaska Gold Rush, for Teens and the Young at Heart. Young adult author Lynn Lovegreen will talk about the history of the Alaska Gold Rush and the inspirations for her novel about gold mining and the claim jumping controversy in Nome in 1900. Each person who donates food or money to the Food Bank of Alaska at this event will receive a free bag of book swag!

Monday, Sept. 8, 5-7pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: Andy Hall presents Denali Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America's Wildest Peak, an account of the 1967 Wilcox Expedition, one of the greatest climbing accidents ever to occur on the highest peak of North America. Twelve climbers attempt the ascent and only five return. Andy Hall, the son of the Denali Park Superintendent at the time, offers an intimate look into the young men on a big adventure.
September 11, 5-7pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: All You Need is Love - Forging an Emotional Connection through the Stories we Write and Read. Romance authors Jennifer Bernard, Tam Linsey, Lynn Lovegreen, Miriam Matthews, and DeNise Woodbury come together to read from their books and discuss romance. This event is sponsored with Romance Writers of Alaska.

Sept. 13 & 14, the 2014 Alaska Writers Guild Annual Conference, in conjunction with
SCBWI Alaska, takes place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Anchorage. This year's conference will feature nationally acclaimed editors, agents, and authors, as well as local authors and illustrators. Once again they are offering a children's literarure and illustration track in conjunction with The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Click here for a detailed list of this year's faculty. Visit the AWG website for more information and to register. Click here for a preliminary conference schedule.

Beginning Sept. 17, Anchorage essayist and author Bill Sherwonit will teach a 12-week nature and travel writing class beginning Sept. 17, in the Sierra Club office downtown. Participants in this workshop-style class will explore and refine their own writing styles, with an emphasis on the personal essay form. The class will also read and discuss works by some of America’s finest nature and travel writers, past and present. The cost is $240. To sign up for this Wednesday night class (7 to 9:30 p.m.), or for more information, contact Sherwonit at 245-0283 or Further information about the teacher is also available at
Events around Alaska 

Today, Friday, Aug. 29, 11am, catch Nick Jans (A Wolf Called Romeo) at Palmer's Fireside Books.
Tomorrow, Saturday, Aug. 30, 11am-1pm. Tom Sexton, Alaska’s poet laureate from 1994 to 2000, the author of several collections of poetry, and the selected poet of this park’s poem-in-place, will give a talk and host a discussion on The Poetry of Place. The talk/discussion is free and open to anyone age 18 or older. Space is limited. Please register in advance. To register or for more information about either event, please email

Tomorrow, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2-3 pm: Poems in Place Dedication.  Help celebrate the unveiling of the 2014 Poem in Place at Independence Mine State Historical Park. Reading by selected poet Tom Sexton will be followed by refreshments and celebration. All are welcome!

Thursday, Sept. 4, 6:30pm, Kachemak Bay Campus: Prior to leading the annual 49 Writers Tutka Bay Retreat, acclaimed poet Carolyn Forché will give a public reading in Homer.

Saturday, Sept. 6, 10am-12:30pm, School House Inn, Lake Aleknagik: Yupik Place Names and the Poetry of Place. Tim Troll and Molly Chythlook will share their knowledge of Yupik place names, the first naming of place. Join in a creative writing exercise with poet Wendy Erd. The workshop is free and open to the public. All are welcome.

Saturday, Sept. 6, 2-3pm, Lake Aleknagik Landing:  Poems in Place Dedication and Celebration. Please help celebrate the unveiling of the new Poem in Place at Lake Aleknagik State Park. Reading by selected poet Tim Troll to be followed by refreshments and celebration. To register or for more information about either event, please email

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 6-8 pm: Kenai Fine Arts Center (816 Cook Drive, Kenai) will host a book release party for Dave Acheson, whose new book, Dead Reckoning, has just been published.
News from our Writers

49 Writers member Lynne Curry PhD has a new book out: Solutions addresses workplace challenges by offering strategies and answers that can change your work life for the better. For more information and to order visit Also available as an e-book! Click here for more info.

Our members are published regularly in the press, and the latest to pop up is Douglas member Katie Bausler, whose piece "When endless sunshine become too much to bear" appeared the other day in the Alaska Dispatch news--a soggy Southeast perspective on summer.
Opportunities for Alaskan Writers
The Alaska Literary Awards, established in 2014 by the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation through a generous gift from Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli, are accepting applications. The Alaska Literary Awards recognize and support writers of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, playwriting, screenwriting, and mixed genres. Any Alaska writer over the age of 18 who is not a full-time student is eligible to apply. Quality of the work submitted is the primary consideration in determining who receives the awards. There are no restrictions on the writer’s use of the award and no formal report is required. The application deadline is Tuesday, September 2, 2014, 9:59pm (AKDT).
Remember that the deadline for the Winter Solstice issue of Cirque is approaching: Sept.15 for publication on Dec. 15. Visit for more information on how to submit and to read the journal full-text.

Nominations for the 2015 Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities are now open. Learn more at the Alaska State Council on the Arts website. The categories are: Arts Education, Native Arts, Arts Organization and Individual Artist. In addition, the Alaska State Council on the Arts’ Literary Advisory Committee will accept nominations for the State Writer Laureate, who will be appointed by the Governor to a two year term (2015-2016). Deadline for both is October 1.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Family Night for Preschoolers: Surprised by Salmon

Juneau Public Library Blog - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 4:01pm
Family Night for Preschoolers is back! Come down to the Downtown Library on Tuesday, September 2nd, from 5:30pm to 7:00pm. Join special guest Megan McPhee of UAF fisheries Division as we learn about salmon, do a fun craft and enjoy time with other families! A light supper is served and all children receive a free […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

Spotlight on Alaska Books: Sleetmute: A True Story of Alaska, by Stan Resnicoff

49 Writers - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 7:00am

It was probably January when I decided to move a short distance into an abandoned log cabin right on the riverbank. Now there were two things I didn’t know.  First, it was abandoned because it’s too cold right on the river, and if that wasn’t enough, this cabin had been lifted up in a flood and rotated so now its front door faced north. Right into the wind. I didn’t know. I thought it looked good. It was impossible to heat.
That night, with no warning, I got sick. Really sick. I became very weak. I had a fever and I was burning up. I felt terrible and to top it off I had to take a wicked shit.
I can’t claim to have been thinking clearly but the only thing on my mind was to make it to the little outhouse near my previous cabin. It wasn’t far. Maybe 2 football fields away. I already had on two pairs of thermal woven cotton long-johns. I put on sweaters. I got on my parka. I opened the door.
It was brutal. Maybe 40 below. It was 4 am.  (from Sleetmute: A True Story of Alaska, by Stan Resnicoff)
New York City. 1968. I was 24. I had just graduated from college. I applied to VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) as a possible deferment from the Army and Vietnam. I was young and I thought I knew everything. I figured if they had VISTA in any state they had to have VISTA in every state. I requested an assignment in Hawaii.
So naturally, six months later I’m in the very remote, tiny Eskimo village of Sleetmute, Alaska. No streets, no electricity, no phones, no television, no signs, no law. I’m wearing everything I own. I’m hunting for my food. It’s fifty degrees below zero and it’s getting colder........
Kirkus Reviews said Sleetmute is “incredibly entertaining” and also “Resnicoff’s encounters fascinate not only because they introduce readers to a world few have ever seen, but also because he’s a gifted storyteller. He channels his 24-year-old self’s confusion and naïveté in a way that is by turns hilarious, endearing and often quite moving.”
After Sleetmute, Stan spent three warmer years in Honolulu designing creative educational materials for the children of Hawaii. He then accepted a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at M.I.T for work that he was doing on natural sensory playgrounds called ‘Playcanos’. While in Boston he was also the exhibits designer for the Boston Children’s Museum, and later he designed creative learning games and experiences for the American Museum of Natural History (NY), the Bronx Zoo and the Smithsonian Institution.                                                                                                In 1982 he joined Mattel Toys as an educational software designer eventually becoming the Director of their ‘blue-sky’ toy research group. He designed the award winning GeoSafari CD-ROM series. More recently, his first children’s book, ‘Stanley, the Seal of Approval’ was published by Random House and it, as well as several other of his children’s books and movies are now available online. He lives in Redondo Beach, California.

AMAZON (paperback and kindle):

Would you like to see your book featured here? Check out our Spotlight on Alaska Books guidelines and submit today!
Categories: Arts & Culture

School District Report on Investigation into Hazing

Juneau School District Announcements - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 4:35pm

The Juneau School District has concluded our investigation into allegations that on or about May 30-31 of this year a group of incoming senior boys hazed/initiated a group of incoming freshmen boys by paddling them multiple times.

These events were first brought to our attention in early June. At that time the district began an initial investigation, which, due to an active police investigation and summer vacation, was put on hold. When we were informed that the police had concluded their investigation we resumed our efforts.

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Categories: Arts & Culture

Jessica Ramsey Golden: Writing For the American Reading Level

49 Writers - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 7:00am

The first thing I learned in journalism was this: news is written at a 4th or 5th grade reading level.
For Americans the average reading level is around 7th grade. When people read for fun or information, they tend to select materials a grade or two below their actual reading level. Thus, writing at a 4th to 5th grade reading level hits the reader’s sweet spot.
Of course, not every piece of work can be accurately and artfully rendered at a 4th grade reading level. You may be writing a meaty literary piece that will be accessible only to college-educated readers. But it behooves us to be aware of our readability. It can make you aware of which audiences your work will reach. In journalism writing to a 4th grade reading level ensures the holy trinity of writing: accessibility, clarity, concision. These traits allow the audience to read, understand, and enjoy what they’re reading.
In other words, it promotes readability.
Readability largely boils down to two factors: 1. Length and complexity of words2.  Length and complexity of sentences.
Under some metrics, paragraph length is also considered.
There are a number of tools available that will tell you the reading level of your writing. The most commonly referenced is the Flesch-Kincaid test. The Flesch Reading Ease test measures how easy a text is to read on a scale from 0 to 100. The higher the score, the more readable the text. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test measures the reading proficiency a reader needs to comprehend the writing.
In Microsoft Word, you can add a readability check to your spellcheck function by following these directions. Scrivener also offers readability stats found by hitting Command-Shift-Option-S. I prefer online tools like and Edit Central
I tested these tools using sample passages from established writers. The results are available in the accompanying chart. As much as possible I chose selections of 500 to 1000 words. I also tried to select excerpts that contained more prose than dialog.
It’s a good idea to check your results on several tools. Some tools skew high, others low. Checking your writing on multiple tools will give you an average to work with. In general, the larger excerpt you use, the more accurate the score will be.
For more tests, tools, and tips visit the Ultimate List of Online Content Readability Tests. You can also test the readability of your website or blog by entering the address into available at the final link below.
Jessica Ramsey Golden’s poetry has appeared in such journals as The William and Mary Review, Orbis International, Calyx, and Cirque. In 2006 she was awarded the Eleanor B. North Poetry Prize. In 2009, she received an Individual Artist Award from the Rasmuson Foundation. In 2011, she began writing fiction. She is currently drafting a science fiction project, while seeking representation for her literary Gothic novel, The Hidden Door. 

Categories: Arts & Culture

Alaska Shorts: 301 Shore Avenue, by Stephen D. Bolen

49 Writers - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 7:00am
Still, now; the torn tin-wrapped two-story structure stands:Towards a century ago; its tired timber and stone-age material metTo hold each other unconditionally;To vanquish Kikiktagruk’s seasons.Legendary: a hunting-guide, a bush-pilot, a man;Family spent and shared time and more time.Liquor and grub given to many at “Marie’s”:Before the hunt; Roy Rogers ate,Hunger found Hank Williams Jr.,Then Mr. Lincoln bagged the record bear: polar.Floors plywood; careful were the feet of children.Covered by linoleum; stairs steep, it changed.Generations abandon their native hallways,Sheltering memories of lives; so many,We were raised by those rooms. Upstairs at the front-room windows we all sat as children,No matter the day, no matter the Sun.None of us are around to cherish the crashing shores’ whispers anymore,Every one of us left; All of us, but one.She’s with her home; they grow old alone,Boxes and boxes; packed and stacked high.It’s almost deserted: haunting; she’s fervid,
I wish we all hadn’t left you..Mother of mine.
Stephen D. Bolen is an aspiring poet from Kotzebue, Alaska.  He is half Inupiaq Eskimo and was raised in the north.  He is currently pursuing a triple-major in English, Psychology, and Philosophy at the University of Alaska, Anchorage; he works full-time in construction as well.  Stephen enjoys spending all the time he can at home with his young daughter Sonnet.

Would you like to see your work published here? Check out our Alaska Shorts guidelines and submit today!
Categories: Arts & Culture

Celebrate the Unexpected – Welcoming the Poetry of Place: A Guest Post by Wendy Erd

49 Writers - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 7:00am
Independence Mine (photo by Mike Criss)
I lost my way on Raspberry Road, driving without good directions on a recent stay in Anchorage and turned into a side road to make a U turn. In the August sun, the bright glint of metal caught my eye as a man in shorts and a faded teeshirt slowly moved his real leg, then his prosthetic leg traveling toward me down the dirt road.  Maybe I was meant to take this turn after all, to witness such perseverance and unsteady grace.  We never met eyes, his focused on each step he took and yet he shook me awake from my small bag of thoughts.
Later that day I wandered along streets unfamiliar to me, though clearly home to many with their scatter of gardening tools and wicker chairs and overturned boats.  Kids' laughter bounced off a back yard trampoline. Geese veered over birch tops, while at my feet a beetle, lustrous in late light, clambered over a bent stalk with the same slow intentioned steps as the man I watched earlier that day.
When we are strangers to a place we see it with wide unexpectedness. If we are in love with words, we begin to set language and meaning to tell how the world comes at us and through us, intersecting who we are and what we bring to the moment.  Sometimes these small notes of attention find their way to become poems.
Poems in Place celebrates such poetry of place, language born both from the freshly apprehended as well as from old knowing engendered from deep rootedness in a place.
Over the next two weekends Poems in Place, a project that puts poems written by Alaskan writers on outside signs in Alaska’s state parks, will celebrate this year’s recently selected poems by Tom Sexton and Tim Troll with free public events and dedication celebrations.
On Saturday August 30th, from 11-1 pm at Independence Mine State Historical Park, Tom Sexton, Alaska’s poet laureate from 1994 until 2000 and the author of several collections of poetry, will give a talk on the poetry of place and the characteristics he believes define such poetry. He will discuss poems by Elizabeth Bishop, W.B. Yeats, Wesley McNair and several other poets. Audience members are invited to bring a poem about a place that they admire or one of their own composition. As many poems as possible will be discussed before lunch. The dedication of Tom’s poem in place, Independence Mine, August, will be celebrated from 2-3 pm. The workshop is free and open to anyone age 18 or older. Space at the talk is limited; please register in advance at
The following Saturday, September 6th,  from 10:30-12:30 pm at Lake Aleknagik, selected poet Tim Troll and Yupik translator Molly Chythlook will share their knowledge of Yupik place names, the original language linked to Lake Aleknagik and Wood-Tikchik areas. Tim produced a short weekly program for KDLG public radio called "Our Story," stories passed down in Yup'ik lore.  Together Molly and Tim conducted traditional ecological knowledge interviews and mapped the original names for local places. The dedication of Tim’s poem, The Wisdom of the Old Ones, follows from 2- pm
As writers and readers, please join us to celebrate the unexpected… poems of place published outside book covers and seeded on permanent signs in the embrace of the late autumn sun, fresh air and changing light. 
Poems in Place is supported by Alaska State Parks, Alaska Center For the Book, the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska State Council on the Arts, Alaska Humanities Forum, the Usibelli Foundation, Alaska Poetry League and numerous generous individuals.
 As a preview to Tom Sexton's workshop (and inspiration for the drive to Hatcher Pass), here's one of Tom's poems:
Autumn in the Alaska Range
Drive north when the braided glacial rivershave begun to assume their winter green.When crossing Broad Pass, you might seethe shimmer of caribou moving on a distant ridgeor find a dark abacus of berries in the froston the boggy trail to Summit Lake. Beyond this,the endless mountains curving like a scimitar.And in the querulous mind, the yearning hearta sudden immeasurable calm.
                                                Tom Sexton

Categories: Arts & Culture

Juvenile Literature Reviews – Spring 2014

Juneau Public Library Blog - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 10:27am
  These reviews are from the volunteers at the Juneau Public Library (in Alaska). during May 2014. Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood written by Varsha Bajaj     With the subtitle, “The Exciting Story of How I Met My Father” and a pink cover, this looks as if it would be a good read on a rainy […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

Alaska Shorts: Raven’s Letter to Edgar, 
by Ned Rozell

49 Writers - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 7:00am
Ned Rozell

Dear Edgar:
I was poking around in a bin of opportunity (“Dumpsters” to your type, with a capital D for some reason) the other day and came across a newspaper that said you died in October 160 years ago. Bummer. I had seen your famous poem about us, in another bin (you wouldn’t believe what people throw out), and I wanted to chew your ear for a minute.
First of all, thanks for calling us “stately” on first reference. I’m with ya. In fact, we’re the real state bird of Alaska, no matter what those placemats say. Willow ptarmigan — whose idea was that? You ever see a willow ptarmigan with personality? Take a poll of Alaskans, Eddy, they’ll give you their state bird, the same “ebony bird” you made famous in 1845.
No other creature has the guts to go where we go. Climbers on Denali try to hide their food from us at 17,000-foot high camp, but it doesn’t work. We wait until they throw a bit of snow over their food and stagger away. Then we dig it up and poke away. Easy money.
And the oilfields around Prudhoe Bay — no trees, blowing snow, about a gazillion below in winter. Those big-money workers up there do a Christmas Bird Count every year, and they record just one species. You know which one it is, baby. Biologists up there have seen us nesting in drilling rigs and feeding our chicks when it’s 30 below. Thirty below! Know where the robins are then, Edgar? Florida! One biologist named Stacia captured a few of us up there to fit us with wing tags. She had trouble re-capturing us for her studies, so — get this — she wore a fake moustache to fool us! But we still know it’s her.
We only hang out in Prudhoe because your type is there, Edgar. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you guys are slobs. You don’t finish what you eat. Today, humans are what wolves were 250 years ago. Once, we were all over the Great Plains, and today we’re not. It’s not that we don’t like wide-open spaces, it’s just that there’s no more bison there, and there’s no more wolves, who, like furry can-openers, would open the buffalo for us.
It’s kind of odd you lived on the East Coast, Edgar. It’s hard to find a raven in Baltimore, except for those ones on the football helmets (Purple ravens?! C’mon guys, black is beautiful!). Today we prefer the West Coast and the far North, from Baja to Barrow. We really like caribou and other prey species, and in Alaska there’s more caribou than people, and there’s lots of wolves and bears left to scatter carcasses around the landscape for us. Ever picked at a fleshy backbone on a hot summer’s day, Edgar? Heaven.
Back to your poem. Let me see if I remember it: Once upon a midnight dreary, after rapping on a chamber door, a raven stepped into a dark parlor, perched on a bust of a Greek goddess, and terrified a bereaved lover by answering all his questions with the word “Nevermore.”I heard that a University of Alaska Fairbanks English professor once picked apart your poem like we do a road-killed red squirrel. He suggested your narrator’s ingestion of opium might have given the raven its voice. That’s baloney. We talk all the time. We squawk, we knock; we make sounds like rocks thrown into water. A Fairbanks scientist who followed us around with a recorder came up with 30 distinct phrases in the raven dictionary. Lucky for him he couldn’t translate them.
The farther I read into your poem, the more you punch up the descriptions. You describe the raven as ghastly, grim, ungainly, gaunt, ominous, grave, a devil, a thing of evil, a fiend and a demon. I’m flattered, but others have held us in pretty high esteem. In Norse mythology, for example, the god Odin employed two ravens with the names Thought and Memory to fly the world and inform him of what was happening out there. We were less dependable for Noah, when a pair of us failed to return to the ark after he sent us to search for land. We probably found some carcasses out there; why go back for hard-tack and scurvy?
In Alaska, we’re treated as we should be. Every Native group has raven stories. In many stories, including those of the Tlingit, Haida, and Koyukon, Raven is the god who created the sun, the Earth, the stars, the moon, and humankind. We are also the tricksters who deceive others in our endless quest for food. True, all true. And tell me, Edgar, what has the moose created? Nothing but moose nuggets.
A biologist once told Ned Rozell that Alaska contains large chunks of nothingness because of two things — bugs and cold air. He has cursed both in a few decades of wandering ice and muskeg but has hiked on due to the fact that he just can't figure out how wolves get enough to eat. This excerpt from “Raven’s Letter to Edgar” comes from the Alaska Sampler 2014, a free e-book.
Would you like to see your work published here? Check out our Alaska Shorts guidelines and submit today!

Categories: Arts & Culture

Jessica Ramsey Golden: The Self-Destructing Creative

49 Writers - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 7:00am
This blog post was originally scheduled to run last week, on Aug. 13. But following Robin Williams’ suicide on Aug. 11, I asked that the post be delayed so that I could reframe my thoughts in light of the national conversation occurring in the wake of this loss. Nothing I say will provide new solutions or special insight. But I do beleive that we have a responsibility to refuse to stop talking about depression. One in ten Americans suffers from depression. But in creative fields the percentage sky-rockets. We do artists a diservice when we write off their work as a product of mental illness. Furthermore, we perpetuate a culture that views creativity as a mentally harmful activity. In fact, study after study shows that art makes us happier, healthier, more empathetic people. If you’re struggling, seek help. Being healthy will not kill your creativity. Only giving up on your art can do that. 
In a recent article for The Atlantic, neuro-scientist Nancy Andreason discusses the links between mental instability, intelligence, and creativity (link below). She traces the idea of the "mad genius" from Aristotle to modern efforts to elucidate creativity as a trait.
Studies indicate that persons with high levels of creativity (as measured by a variety of metrics) are much more likely to have a history of mental illness and addiction in their family. They themselves are also more likely to have a history of mental disorder.
Creativity is a fine line to walk. We so deeply link the demon of dysfunction with the angel of creativity that we come to think of them as one and the same.
I remember trying desperately, futilely to explain to my college Modernism class that Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Wolfe didn't write from their depression.
They couldn't have.
Depressed people don't function well enough to organize and write a novel, let alone to edit and rigorously rewrite.
They wrote in spite of their illness, not because of it. They wrote when they were relatively healthy, when they were functional. This is evident in Wolfe’s suicide note when she writes, “I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. (...) You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read.”
To paraphrase Sylvia Plath, when you’re depressed you have no time for anything but being depressed.
To my anger and frustration I've seen gifted artists and writers use the Dysfunction of the Greats as a justification for their overindulgence in unhealthy behavior. It's the shortcut past the hard work and long hours. The floodgate through which will pour your own inner Hemingway.
Drink, drug, and self-destruct. For it proves you're a genius.
As Stephen King notes in On Writing, "The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are intertwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time."
In her TED talk, author Elizabeth Gilbert notes that artists tend to self-destruct. Then she asks, “Are you guys all cool with that?”
Are we?
It's important that we talk about the mental health of our artists, writers, and musicians. It's important that we acknowledge that great work comes from great labor, and that madness and addiction are not pathways to genius. They are merely unfortunate chemical by-products of similar neural processes. 
It's important for two reasons: First, so that we can stop giving our creative young people the idea that unhealthy behavior will make them more creative. Second, so we can treat creativity as a necessary activity for a healthy mind.
My mother is depressive. As any child of someone with mental illness can tell you, it wreaks havoc on childhood. Depression was the ghost in our home. The blackness that shadowed every aspect of life.
Her's was not the lingering malaise of existential dissatisfaction. Her depression crippled her. She spent months in bed. The tiniest decisions overwhelmed her. When you spoke to her, whether seeking joy or comfort, you never knew if you would get the fun, creative mother you loved, or the huge, seeping sadness that lurked just under the surface.
It was impossible to understand and make sense of at 6-years-old. And at 10. And at 13. But when I was 14, I discovered someone who helped me understand. Someone Andreason used as a case study on the link between creativity and mental illness. Kurt Vonnegut.
In Breakfast of Champions (a book Vonnegut considered his worst), he discusses the suicide of his mother.
Mental illness is a theme throughout his work. One he approaches with an empathy, humor, and humanity that is, true to Vonnegut form, touchingly irreverent.
His family, like mine, is rife with depression, addiction, bad relationships, suicide, and eating and anxiety disorders.
My mother's disease occurred at a time before depression was a common topic.
Socially, her depression was perceived as an implicit failure on her part to live up to the expectation of perfection that her religion demanded.
Her children, house, clothes, body, and marriage were imperfect. So she simply gave up fighting her illness.
To read Vonnegut state of his own mother that she committed suicide out of embarrassment, is a truth so profound and terrible, that one can only laugh out loud in horror.
It took the first 26 years of my life for me to figure out that genetically and behaviorally, my auto-setting is self-destruct. The genes I inherited and the behaviors I learned in childhood are a recipe for becoming imprisoned in the same disease that decimated my mother. 
I have to actively and consciously choose healthy habits. I have to override the behaviors I learned and the genes I was assigned.
I have to unlearn my earliest formed habits. My relationships to food, sleep, sex, exercise, religion, television, and family. Some days this is easy. Some days it's not.
But I choose to demonstrate healthy behaviors to my children. And one of those healthy habits is creativity. Specifically writing.
Writing is cheap therapy. Writing is working through your shit. The shit you don't want to deal with. That's what Vonnegut taught me. It's a way to call out your inner crazy.
To write is to stomp through your swampy Jungian underworld in hip-waders and see what kinds of demons you can shake from the trees.
It may not be pretty or nice. But it is necessary work.
Because, as with so many demons, they only begin to dissipate when they are named.
To know what it is, to drag it into the light, to hang Grendel's arm from the rafters of the world and cry, “Here! Here's what's been stalking me!” is to set the world in perspective. 
We must shift our understanding. We must see creativity, not as a symptom of a disease, but as a tool to help control it. A coping mechanism. A meaning that transcends the storminess of an unsettled mind. So we can nurture our artists amid their flights of fancy, and draw them back from the alluring precipice of self-destruction.

Jessica Ramsey Golden’s poetry has appeared in such journals as The William and Mary Review, Orbis International, Calyx, and Cirque. In 2006 she was awarded the Eleanor B. North Poetry Prize. In 2009, she received an Individual Artist Award from the Rasmuson Foundation. In 2011, she began writing fiction. She is currently drafting a science fiction project, while seeking representation for her literary Gothic novel, The Hidden Door.

Categories: Arts & Culture


What Turtle Blood Tastes Like - Sun, 08/17/2014 - 8:28pm
Found this found poem at twitter where i rarely roam as the shack_poet. Thanks Emily Wall for the prompt. knife found in muskeg, peat, rust browned blade fashions paper lantern into wings my departure under their power requires no jumper cablesFiled under: community, energy, experiments, Poetry, Storytelling, Writing
Categories: Arts & Culture


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