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Jonathan Bower: But does it Sing?

49 Writers - Tue, 09/30/2014 - 7:00am

“Language can do what it can’t say.” – William Stafford
“Somehow I too must find a way of making things; not plastic, written things, but realities that arise from the craft itself.” – Rilke, in a letter to Lou Salome (August, 10, 1903)
I haven’t been at it very long, and it’s not a career, but I can say that after a few years bumbling along the learning curve, I have come to love the opportunity to teach creative writing at the undergraduate level. There’s no space now to detail precisely what I love about the work, but I enjoy it in such a way that – even though I usually teach only one class a term – when people ask me what I do for a living, I now and then respond that I teach creative writing. There are many reasons for answering in this way, but for now I’ll only share that when asked, this option has a nice ring to it.            My hands down absolute least favorite part of the job, however, is being on the receiving end of the English department’s email requesting textbook orders for the coming fall term. Whether due to internalized, projected outwardly-applied pressure, this email’s appearance in my inbox calls to life again that feeling that I need to provide for my students THE definitive text that will aid in their process of becoming Writers. It hardly helps that I’m no fan of 99% of the books I’ve read that I can only ever think to classify as “Writing about Writing.”
I have a bookcase full of them, and, god, how I’ve tried to get on board, to find them helpful, as well as to understand or imagine the ways these help other writers feel like they’re onto something, that they’re making progress. There’s a veritable industry of these works aimed at turning everyone who thinks they should or need to write a book into a published, and maybe even award-winning author. Do “Writing about Writing” books have their own store? Their own New York Times Bestseller list? If you answered in the affirmative, it wouldn’t surprise me.
Last week in workshop, a student turned out an essay detailing the period in her childhood when her parents divorced. What might have proven a maudlin or overwrought affair instead capably and compassionately brimmed with candor and, though bittersweet, offered sincere but maturely restrained reflections on events that I imagine in real time bristled with gnarly barbs and a caustic, if not nuclear, amount of energy.
For instance, after a heartbreaking but humorous introduction to her father’s character at the start of the piece, the writer offered a flashback, sharing the story of how her parents met. Her grandmother – her mom’s mom – hired her dad as a magician for a party. “In the middle of the event,” she writes, “one of my dad’s white doves met its demise in the dining room ceiling fan, covering the white linen table cloth in bird blood.” Her grandmother decided then, our fellow writer shared, that she absolutely didn’t like her father after that, and that she had it out for him ever since.
The morning I reached this moment in her story, I couldn’t contain myself. I laughed out loud, and also became restlessly giddy in my seat, too – never mind that I was also writhing with envy, self-centered as I am, wanting that material for my own as stock footage for my personal archive. As a painfully shy male, as well as a divorced father, I simply couldn’t help marveling her dad’s gumption, that he - after staining his host’s white linen with bird blood – actually dared to ask this woman’s daughter out on a date! And then she, his future wife, said yes! Marvelous! Isn’t it?
At a songwriting workshop I attended this past summer, one of the workshop instructors complimented a classmate’s line in a lyric by noting, “That’s good real estate.” That’s how I felt about this the sacrificial white dove bleeding all over the tablecloth, the magic trick gone madly a wry. You want to honor the spaces around that detail and attend to the rest of the design with care and undivided attention.  This student’s got an enviable piece of real estate on her hands.
But the outward, visible, physical reaction to what I was reading was actually a slimmer, paler version of my inner-response to the piece, complimenting on an interior level any and every encounter I’ve had with multiple art forms over the years. There’s a physical sensation involved, and the only way I know to describe this connection – my appreciation and recognition of the thing that’s occurring or has occurred – is to, in the case of writing, recognize that the moment “sings” on the page.
It’s a nearly audible, and thoroughly physical sensation that reaches outside of the sometimes sterile (though of course entirely useful, necessary, and functional) “grammatically correct.” (“Grammar is a piano I play by ear,” wrote Joan Didion, emphasis mine.)
These moments bound past convention, allowing language, as William Stafford shared, to “do what it can’t say.” The deepest truth or resonance of a work never, in my experience, simply or merely shows and/or tells. It rather hums, vibrates through you – the assembly of words and images resound like a tuning fork through your entire being. Prose, for all the silence and solitude that accompanies the writing process, can sing a song that, like Bon Iver’s ‘Holocene’ or Van Morrison’s entire Astral Weeks, you can feel on and under your skin.
A magician, an artist in another craft, releases his white doves to the air in good faith, and the entire expectant gathering is instead bathed in blood. A white linen tablecloth, and one grandmother, will never recover.
The absurdity, the terror, and the hilarity of it all.
Early into my writing life, I elusively sought a way to achieve, realize, or seize on those kinds of moments. I collected books that I hoped would “magically” help me realize and sculpt these into good writing. In more recent years, however, I’ve learned that life hands these events to you indiscriminately, and that you’re give a choice as to whether or not to even note them, and to then labor over them in the hopes of weaving them into a work aspiring towards art.
Given this, I now feel that it doesn’t matter what “textbook” we order or plunge into from one term to another: The most important text my students will have in their library will be the 99¢ single subject notebook from Walgreen’s (or the Moleskine, if they care to splurge) in which they scribble these “bloody white dove” moments, “magic tricks gone a wry” as they randomly occur or recall them. There’s no single text that I can find or have found that can teach a writer to cultivate the active attention and intention that comes with noting or discovering them. 
In the process of recognizing these jewels of experience for what they are, we begin noting the light they give off when glimpsed at this way, or the prism that hits the page when you slant it this other way. An attentive presence, with ears and eyes so attuned to life’s ‘perfect pitch’ delivery, combined with, sure, of course, a copy of Strunk and White, a good dictionary, and the nerve to read your clunky prose aloud in the yawning silence of your own room (or car, as I’ve had to do now and then), and I’ve little doubt a writer’s prose can achieve its musical moments. With the proper care and attention, you can play Joan Didion’s “grammar piano” to the tune that causes your reader to experience the mystery of prose singing under and on his or her skin.
My role in the workshop many nights feels like an unadorned privilege. I have the opportunity to aid other writers in a process not just of construction, but discovery. I get to work alongside them – our pickaxe’s swinging – as we mine our lives for the moments that have caused the blood to pulse and pound in our ears and bellies and chests a little harder. Did the doves flinch or shudder on the table after they landed? Or were they just white lumps of dead weight, plopping to earth?
We know these moments by a marked cadence, their unusual arrival and rhythm as they flow into the running stream of our lives, clarifying for us that universal melody, the song of, to paraphrase Mary Oliver, “the world offering itself to your imagination, calling to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”
(Jonathan received permission from his student to quote from and refer to this particular essay from his workshop.)

Jonathan J. Bower is a writer, songwriter, father, and creative writing instructor living in Anchorage. He is currently trying to survive the final days of a Kickstarter campaign intended to cover the post-production costs of his new album, Hope, Alaska, which will be officially released in late October. If you’re interested in previewing his music, you can visit his Kickstarter page,  or his website, . Register now for his three-hour 49 Writers workshop Our Stories and Their Songs on Oct. 11.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Andromeda: 6 Weeks to Start Your Novel--Is This Your Year to Commit?

49 Writers - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 6:00am

I wrote my second published novel, The Detour, in about nine months, and I still recall my discomfort when a family friend at a holiday dinner asked me, “But isn’t that too little time in which to write a real novel?”
Okay, she did not say "real." That's just how I heard her question.
“You’re right,” I should have said. “I’ll send the advance back.”
I wouldn’t remember the conversation at all if it hadn’t reinforced some illogical worry of my own. Part of me had idealized the sheer length of time some writers take to complete their works. Ten years is certainly not unheard of, and in another post, I've praised the concept of taking a long time. Just not all the time.
My first novel, which required lots of research and two trips abroad, plus long breaks when I was working on nonfiction projects, took about three to four years, including final editorial revisions. But time alone is no guarantee of success or literary value. I spent another two years on an in-between novel that was never published. In fact, it was frustration over that book, with its overcooked quality and intractable rewrite problems, that made me choose to write The Detour quickly and with pleasure, as if I were writing it—like my very first novel—only for myself.
Why should it be hard to write a novel draft in nine months? That’s only about 2,000 words a week. Write twice as much, and throw half of it away, and you’re still good. Set it aside for six months, spend another nine months revising intensely—my own process often involves as much revision as early drafting—and you’re still on a fairly productive track. The business side of writing is enough to frustrate the most stoical among us, but simple math is always on our side.
Of course, some writers believe we can do better by taking less than two years. A lot less. Writing fast is a great way to get ahead of the censors, to stop thinking in a paralyzing way about results, audience, market, and so on. As Alan Watt, author of The 90-Day Novel says, “When we write quickly, we tend to bypass our critical voices and tap directly into the heart of the story.” Both Stephen King and John Steinbeck, Watt reminds us, were able to knock out first drafts in three months.
(Note that no one is suggesting here that a first draft is a final draft, or that every manuscript—written quickly or at a snail’s pace—will be publishable. But as every person who has spent $30,000+ on an MFA can attest, you can spend three years and have lots of help, and still end up with something unpublishable.)
As many NaNoWriMo participants have discovered, if you commit to writing fast, 50,000 words or more can pile up quickly. Are they all perfectly chosen words, fitted into syntactically perfect sentences? Maybe not. But sometimes, quickly written prose can be more playful, more surprising, more creative, and—as a teacher this interests me greatly—more instructive. Instead of lingering at the studio door, second-guessing ourselves, we dig in and get a lot of clay on the table. We make a lot of pots—some better than others. Hopefully, we become less attached to results, and in so doing, may paradoxically end up with a better result.
That’s what happened to Watt, who wrote his own award-winning debut novel, Diamond Dogs, in 44 days.
(Be amazed at that, and then forget it, because unfortunately, if we labor in pursuit of similarly astonishing results, we’ll miss the point, which is to focus on process.)
 Breakthroughs are possible. The person who always dreamed of writing a novel but couldn’t start finally gets some pages done. The person who has become over time more cautious, more self-critical, throws off the chains and ventures into new subject matter, or discovers a new voice, or finally tells a more natural, more authentic story. Or at the very least amasses some new skills quickly, having finally found a low-stakes opportunity to test out a new POV or genre or something else, using the excuse that this experiment won’t take long.
I’m not suggesting that the speed-drafting or NaNoWriMo approach is right for every person and every project. But given how much some of us dream of writing and publishing novels, wouldn’t it make sense, at least once in a lifetime, to 1) try a slower, more analytical, left-brain method, and 2) at least once in a lifetime, especially if writer’s block, anxiety, or loss of beginner’s zeal has become a problem, try a fast-drafting, right-brain method?
If this sounds interesting to you, consider joining us beginning October 11 for “Your Novel Now,” a 6-week, asynchronous (log on when it works for you) online class that will emphasize quick-drafting with light instruction and discussion. We won’t aim to write full novels in that short time, but we will aim to to get a great start: 10,000 words, writing about an hour a day. What do you have to lose?
Andromeda Romano-Lax is the author of The Spanish Bow and The Detour, as well as a forthcoming novel, Behave. She is a co-founder of 49 Writers and teaches in the UAA MFA low-residency creative writing program. She is also a book coach with a special interest in revision, narrative structure, and the lifelong development of the writer. Contact her at for more info on her book coaching services.

Categories: Arts & Culture

Banned Books Week 2014, take six

Juneau Public Library Blog - Sat, 09/27/2014 - 11:39am
In day six of Banned Books Week it is worth to look at another American classic: To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s use of sexual assault and racial themes has prompted a huge number of challenges in the more than 50 years since the book was published. You may want to read the book and judge […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

Banned Books Week 2014, take five.

Juneau Public Library Blog - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 11:22am
In day Five of Banned Books Week we’ll take a look at surprising banned and challenged books. In this list is The Carrot Seed, which has been banned or challenged numerous times because it “shows a contempt for authority, and in particular for children not respecting their parents.” Do you think that’s so? If you […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

Linda: 49 Writers Weekly Roundup

49 Writers - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 7:00am
Juneau participants in Autogeography writing workshop with Sherry SimpsonWhat a week it's been, taking our Crosscurrents Southeast program of author events and creative writing classes to Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan and connecting with writers and lovers of books in the rainforest region of the state (yes, it has rained every single day but that hasn't diminished our enthusiasm). The eight-day program featuring Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes launched with an Evening at Egan event at UAS and the Juneau community came out in force. Due to unprecedented demand, we opened the writing workshop up to more people and 27 attended. Visit our Facebook page to see the photo album. Last night Sherry and Ernestine taught "Our Music and Our Stories: Fresh Approaches to Familiar Places" in Ketchikan at their beautiful new library. Today, we're off to Craig for the final round of events.
Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes discuss cultural appropriation in Alaskan writing at Ketchikan Public LibraryWe are most grateful to the partners in each community who collaborated to make this program possible: University of Alaska Southeast, Juneau Public Libraries and Friends of the Library, the Island Institute, Ketchikan Public Library and Friends of the Library, and Craig Public Library. Special thanks go to the Alaska Humanities Forum and the National Endowment for the Arts for awarding a grant in support of these activities.
Alaska Book Week, October 4-11, is almost upon us! Find more information about activities planned around the state at and help us to celebrate Alaska's authors and their books. You can still sign up get involved: click here to complete a participation form. Order the poster PDF and bookmarks here. Contact ABW coordinator Jathan Day with questions at akbookweek (at) gmail (dot) com. Do let him know if you're planning an event so we can add it to the schedule and get the word out for you. We would also like to invite you to participate in Barnes and Noble's promotional event during this week. Simply mention "Alaska Book Week" at the cash register (or use promotional code # 11445905 for online purchases) from October 4-11, and a percentage of anything you buy in the store (books, coffee, you name it) will go to Alaska Book Week. We cannot thank Barnes and Noble enough for this exciting partnership! We also encourage you to check out Barnes and Noble year round for other author events.

In Anchorage, the week-long celebration will culminate in The Great Alaska Book Fair on Saturday, Oct. 11, 10am to 5pm in the Loussac Library lower level (Outside the Wilda Marston Theater). All published Alaskan authors in the realm of creative writing are invited to participate. Don't miss the chance to sell your books and meet new readers.The fee for a Book Fair table is $20 for a half-table and $35 for a full table. Table set-up will take place the morning of Saturday, Oct. 11, from 8:30-10am. Authors must be residents of Alaska, but your books do not need to be about or take place in Alaska. You will be responsible for selling your own books, and either the author or your representative must be present at all times. This event will be free and open to the public. Registration deadline is Oct. 6. Register today at For more information, email Brooke Hartman at or visit the Alaska Book Week website.

Upcoming classes and events at 49 Writers
Tuesday, Sept. 30, 6pm, 645 W. 3rd Avenue, Anchorage: Exploring the Possibilities of Publishing with a University Press. 49 Writers hosts Regan Huff, Senior Acquisitions Editor at University of Washington Press, who will gave a talk and answer questions from writers with a nonfiction project that might be of interest to the Press. To pre-register for this free event, please click the link to sign up. Ms Huff is also scheduling one-on-one appointments with potential authors who have a book-length nonfiction project about the Northwest, including Alaska. Contact rhuff(at)uw(dot)edu to schedule. If you have a proposal and sample chapter to share, she would love to see it; otherwise, a short description would be fine to start.

We have several classes that begin next week in Anchorage: Oct. 1-22, Writing the Intimate and the Explicit with Andromeda Romano-Lax, Oct. 2-30, Claiming Your Place with Douglass Bourne, Oct. 4, Children's Books: Writing, Illustrating, Publishing, with Seth Kantner, Deb Vanasse, and Beth Hill. For information and to register for these and other classes, visit our website.

Events in Anchorage

For more Anchorage events visit the Alaska Book Week website page, Anchorage Events.

Wednesday, Oct 1, 6-8pm, Loussac Library: Blog and Be Heard workshop for teen writers featuring Angela Gonzalez and Deb Vanasse.

Friday, Oct. 3, 6-8pm, Blue Holloman Gallery: First Friday Book Launch with Seth Kantner, Beth Hill (Pup and Pokey), and Deb Vanasse (Cold Spell),
Saturday, Oct. 5, 1-3pm, Barnes & Noble, Anchorage: Seth Kantner, Beth Hill, and Deb Vanasse book signing.

Monday, Oct, 6, 1-3pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: AQR Showcase. A complete compilation of Alaska Quarterly Review will be displayed for you to peruse and enjoy. From the first double issue published in 1982 to the current 62nd double issue in 2014.

Monday, Oct. 6, 4-4:45pm, UAA Multicultural Center, Rasmuson Hall Room 106: Pre-Event Reception for Dr. Jervette Ward. All are welcome to attend! Her lecture will be at the UAA Campus Bookstore at 5pm. Dr. Jervette Ward’s events are sponsored by UAA Campus Bookstore, UAA Department of English, UAA Multicultural Center, UAA College of Arts and Sciences

Monday, Oct. 6, 5-7pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: Sex, Race, and Class: Portrayals of Black Women in Reality TV. Jervette Ward is Assistant Professor in the English Dept. at UAA. She earned a Ph.D. in English – Literary & Cultural Studies from the University of Memphis. Her forthcoming book Scandalous Stars: Black Women in Reality TV will be published in 2015.

Tuesday, Oct. 7, 11am-12:30pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: Alaska Quarterly Review and UAA Campus Bookstore present Poet Joan Kane: Writing Opportunities for Alaska Native Students
Joan Naviyuk Kane is the featured artist in the current Alaska Quarterly Review Volume 31. At this event she will read selected poems, discuss Alaska Quarterly Review, and writing opportunities for Alaska Native students.

Wednesday, Oct. 8, 5-7pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: A Veteran's Road to College Success. Kenneth racewell is a successful United States Army combat veteran. He served in Iraq; Fort Wainwright, Alaska; and Fort Benning, Georgia. He holds an Associates and a Bachelor of Human Services. Kenneth also motivates and helps veterans by sharing his experience with the Post 9/11 GI Bill and his success with it through his motivational book, A Veteran's Road to College Success. His goal is to work with veterans in areas of educational success and employment in the future. This event is sponsored with UAA Military Veteran Student Services.

Monday, Oct. 13, 5-7pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: The Art of Writing and Publishing in Different Genres with Steve Levi, Deb Vanasse, and Martha Amore. Steve Levi (Walrus with a Gold Tooth, and Cowboys of the Sky), Martha Amore (Weathered In, “Geology”) and Deb Vanasse (Cold Spell and Lucy’s Dance) describe their multifaceted books, writing styles and publishing today.

Tuesday, Oct. 14, 5-7pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: Tutka Bay Lodge Cookbook and Cooking Demonstration with Kirsten Dixon and Mandy Dixon. In personal stories, evocative photographs, and recipes that are purposefully simple and designed for the home cook, Chef Kirsten Dixon and her family share fresh, rustic cuisine offering friendship, communicating passion, and bringing comfort and delight to the table. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from Alaskan master chefs. Your taste buds will thank you!

Wednesday, Oct. 22, 5-7pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: Alaska Memoirs with Dave Atcheson and Jeff Schultz. Dave Atcheson discusses his memoir Dead Reckoning: Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas--a story in which college students and “fish hippies” work in canneries alongside survivalists, rednecks, religious freaks, and deckhands with damning secrets in dangerous waters, driven by the need to feed an insatiable appetite for adventure. Photographer Jeff Schultz will discusses Chasing Dogs – My Adventures as the Official Photographer Alaska’s Iditarod. Schultz has served in this official capacity since 1982, traveling by plane, snow machine, snowshoes, and on foot to capture the race as no one else has.

Events around Alaska 
For more statewide events visit the Alaska Book Week website page, Events Around the State.

Tonight, Sept. 26, 7pm, UAF Schaible Auditorium: The legendary Tom McGuane  will open the Midnight Sun Visiting Writers series with a reading of recent work. McGuane is the author of 15 books of fiction and non, including Ninety-Two in the Shade, The Longest Silenceand The Cadence of Grass. In addition to being elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and receiving a Western Literature Association Lifetime Achievement Award, McGuane is also a member of the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame. and the National Cutting Horse Hall of Fame. You won't want to miss this! Here is a link to his most recent short story from last week's New Yorker, with audio: “Motherlode”

Saturday, Oct. 4, 2-4pm, Barnes & Noble, Fairbanks: Author Kris Farmen will be signing his books, including his latest novella in the collection Weathered Edge.

Saturday, Oct. 4, 3pm, Fireside Books in Palmer: Come and meet authors Deb Vanasse and Seth Kantner. Deb Vanasse will be signing copies of her latest book, Cold Spell, the story of a mother who risks everything to start over and a daughter whose longings threaten to undo them both. Seth Kantner will be there for his adorable children's book, Pup and Pokey.

Saturday, Oct. 4, 6pm, Turkey Red, Palmer: Dinner with Alaska Authors, featuring Seth Kantner, Beth Hill, and Deb Vanasse. Ticketed event, $20 (includes dinner), hosted by Fireside Books

Sunday, Oct. 5, 11am, John Trigg Ester Library, Ester: Readers on the Run is a fun 5-kilometer footrace, poetry composition contest, and fundraiser for the John Trigg Ester Library is held every year during Alaska Book Week

Oct. 8-Nov. 12, Wednesdays, 12-2:15pm, Rich Chiappone will teach a class on writing personal esssays at KPC's Kachemak Bay Campus. Don't miss this opportunity to learn with a writer "whose rich humor has been a critical ingredient in an alchemy that turned subjects like squirrels and handmade road signs into cultural maps for early 21st century Alaska" (Krestia DeGeorge, Anchorage Press). Register online or stop by the campus off Pioneer Avenue in Homer.

We are pleased to announce the addition to our fall lineup of three events at Kenai Peninsula College. Thank you to 49 Writers member Dave Acheson (Dead Reckoning) for reaching out to make this happen. Friday, Oct. 10, 7pm, in the McLain Commons, Deb Vanasse and Don Rearden will feature in a reading and book talk entitled "Fact and Fiction: Life Into Story." On Saturday, Oct. 11, each will offer a three-hour creative writing workshop. Don will teach "Complex and Conflicted Characters : What's in Your Character's Pocket" from 9am to noon, and you can take "Perspective and Viewpoints: Exploring Point of View" with Deb, 1-4pm. Both take place in Room 132 at KPC. These workshops were both well-received by our membership in Juneau this spring, and you won't want to miss this opportunity to learn from two excellent, long-term faculty of 49 Writers.

News from Alaskan publishers

Shorefast Editions in Juneau has announced the publication of the paperback edition of Leigh Newman's memoir, Still Points North. Leigh was our featured author for the April 2013 Reading & Craft Talk.

News from University of Alaska Press:
  • Gaining Daylight by Sara Loewen was selected as the winner of the 2014 WILLA Literary Award in creative nonfiction. Upriver by Carolyn Kremers was selected as a finalist for poetry. Winners and finalists represent the best-published literature for women’s or girls’ stories set in the North American West.
  • Mary’s Wild Winter Feast by Hannah Lindoff, illustrated by Nobu Koch and Clarissa Rizal, was reviewed by Kirkus.
  • Yupik Transitions: Change and Survival at Bering Strait, 1900-1960 by Igor Krupnik and Michael Chlenov was one of two titles to receive honorary mention by the Polar Libraries Colloquy in the selection process for the 2014 William Mills Prize.
  • Our new World War II book, Kiska by Brendan Coyle, was featured in an article at
  • Brian Adams’ I Am Alaskan was featured in the January 2014 edition of Printer’s Row, which is the Chicago Tribune’s premium Sunday book section. It was also selected to receive a design award and travel in the Association of American University Presses 2014 Book, Jacket & Journal Show. This show will be coming to UAF in October 2014 and will be exhibited in the Rasmuson Library. 
  • Cold Spell by Deb Vanasse received favorable reviews in Publishers Weekly, Foreword Reviews, and Booklist.
  • Among Wolves also received favorable reviews from Booklist, Huffington Post, andInterdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (ISLE).
Opportunities for Alaskan Writers

NEW! YEA Alaska, which promotes the annual national Scholastic visual arts and writing competition for students in grades 7-12, is looking for writing judges for this year’s competition as well as writers interested in serving on its board. For more information, visit
Saturday, Nov. 8, 9am-2pm, Anchorage School District Young Writers Conference: Inspire the next generation of published authors by volunteering to share your craft and passion with students in grades 6-12. Showcase and sell your (age appropriate) books. Interested? Fill out this brief proposal form: Authors do not need to be on site for the whole conference, but they are welcome to eat a pizza lunch with students, listen to keynote speaker Debbie Miller, and visit with students and fellow authors in a "Meet the Authors" space. Questions or concern? Contact Lisa Weight, Language Arts Curriculum and Instruction, ASD ED Center, at 907-742-4476.
The Denali Park Writer-in-Residence application period closes the end of this month. 2014 summer writers included Tom Sexton and Angela Morales. Apply now for winter or summer residencies. Visit to learn more.
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.

The registration deadline for Alaska Poetry Out Loud is October 15! Complete information and registration for the program is available at the Alaska Poetry Out Loud website. Not sure you're ready to register, but interested in discussing the program? We will host two, informational teleconferences on Sept. 23 & 30, 3:30pm. You can RSVP for one of these teleconferences here.

After a successful pilot season of Writers’ Showcase, 360 North statewide public television and KTOO News would like to invite Alaska writers to participate in this next season. We’re looking for short stories and creative non-fiction around the following themes: Holidays (Nov. 13); Journeys (Mar. 5); and Writer's Pick (June 4). Click here for more information.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Banned Books Week 2014, take 4

Juneau Public Library Blog - Thu, 09/25/2014 - 2:39pm
On day four of Banned Books Week, we’ll look at The Hanmaid’s Tale. According to the American Library Association The Handmaid’s Tale has been banned for being “sexually explicit, violently graphic and morally corrupt.” If you want to know more about the author’s view of the book, check out this article from The Guardian:
Categories: Arts & Culture

Write a Better Children’s Book (and while we’re at it, an invitation)

49 Writers - Thu, 09/25/2014 - 7:00am

They say 80 percent of those who read books also have at least one book they’d like to write. And I agree with David Henry Sterry, who wrote in a HuffPo blog post that “a staggering number” of those would-be authors want to write books for young readers.
Some aspiring children’s book authors are parents or grandparents or teachers whose reading of books with children has sparked ideas for their own creative work. Some are artists with books they want to illustrate. Some are writers who’ve never lost touch with their childhood love of stories and the fresh way you see the world when you’re young. Some are accomplished writers for adults who are brave enough to venture into new forms for young (and demanding!) readers.
With one of Alaska’s best-known authors, Seth Kantner, and his accomplished illustrator Beth Hill, I’m teaching a workshop for aspiring children’s authors. For three hours on Saturday, Oct. 4, we’re going to consider common misconceptions about children’s books along with what makes certain titles saleable and enduring. We’ll also discuss the project ideas and manuscript excerpts of workshop participant from an editorial and artistic perspective, with a focus on what the writers should do next as they pursue completion and publication.
To teach this workshop with Seth and Beth is a huge honor. Seth’s Ordinary Wolves has a forever place on my shelves—and that was before I discovered how engaging and insightful he is in person. (If you haven’t yet studied with him, I recommend you come up with a children’s book idea pronto, so you’ll have an excuse to talk shop with him for a few hours.) Beth’s illustrations for his new book, Pup and Pokey, are radiant, and I’m eager to find out more about how the two of them collaborated.
Our workshop is one of several events that bring the three of us together to celebrate Alaska Book Week and the launch of our new books: for Seth and Beth, their first title for children; for me, my first literary novel for grown-ups.
True story: Cold Spellis my fourteenth title in print, and this will be my first-ever book launch, including the workshop plus all this with Seth and Beth:
·         First Friday Official Launch: Blue Holloman Gallery, Anchorage, 6 – 8 pm, Oct. 3 ·         Book signing: Fireside Books, Palmer, 3-5 pm·         Dinner with Alaska Authors (Dave Cheezem’s outstanding idea), Turkey Red, Palmer, 6 – 8 pm. Food, fun, conversation; $20 ticketed event includes dinner.·         Book signing: A literary event for the whole family at Barnes and Noble, Anchorage, 1 – 3 pm·         Crosscurrents Onstage Discussion “Would the Real Alaska Please Stand Up?” Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Auditorium, 7 – 8 :30 pm, with Joan Kane and Peggy Shumaker
Good times, good friends. Come celebrate with us!

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored more than a dozen books. Her most recent is Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. 
Would you like to write a guest post relevant to Alaska’s literary community? Email 49writers (at) or debvanasse (at)
Categories: Arts & Culture

Banned Books Week, take 3

Juneau Public Library Blog - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 3:04pm
It’s day three of Banned Books Week, and today we’ll explore Bone, by Jeff Smith. According to the American Library Association Bone has been frequently challenged or banned because of “Political viewpoint, racism, violence”. Do you want to know what the author thinks about all this? Check out the following article:
Categories: Arts & Culture

A Bit of Landscaping

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 10:54am

I finished laying the paving stones at Jeannette’s! —

How many of you have lived in the American Southwest?  (Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico?  If you have lived in the SW, then you know all about the mud sticking to the bottom of your feet after a drenching rain!  And how many of you remember when I had a landscaping company in Juneau back in 1981 through 1993?  It was called Kahtahah Landscape Company; it was mainly just me the designer/boss/landscaper who hired a different crew of workers every year.  Kahtahah in our Tlingit language translates as:  “She who plants” or “planting time” (depending on how you use it in a sentence).  Although I landscaped here and there in Juneau, I was the gardener/landscaper for Sealaska Coporation 1981-1993.   With the exception of the birch trees, I planted all the trees and shrubs down at the Plaza — they have gotten so big now — though some of them have been removed because of technological stuff replacing them (i.e. ATM machine, the energy tower, etc.).

Anyway, back to the American Southwest.  Last weekend I drove down to my friend’s home 20 miles south of Gallup, NM, to a her homeland called Vanderwagon.  Yes, she’s Navajo.  She is preparing her house for whenever she moves back after 40+ years; she is going to move back whether it be full time or part-time.  I wanted to see her homeland, meet her family members and bring her some household goods to help start her off.  And because I love to garden and landscape, my favorite part was setting the paving stones!  When I arrived, it had just rained so we were tracking in all the mud!  And the remedy was sitting right outside her door, so I got to work!

Jeanette was given about 80 stones from a sister-in-law who didn’t need them.  They sat outside her front door for a year…until I came along!  I just finished laying the pavers yesterday!  Now I want to lay  paving stones set like this for my outdoor fire pit; I’ve been wanting to do this for the past 20 years,  but I have to wait until I have the extra cash to pay for the pavers!  Doggone, how long must I wait!?

After a couple of days work on setting the pavers, I relaxed in Jeannette’s truck on our way to order washed 3/4″ gravel for the driveway and to lay in between the pavers…I kinda look like Yoko Ono in this shot, don’t I ?

Pendleton Blanket purchased from the Navajo Shopping Center, Gallup, NM

So while on our way to order gravel, the truck started to act up badly.  We took it into the nearby car repair shop.  While waiting for the truck to be repaired, we went to the “Navajo Shopping Center” in business for 50 years — wow, what a place!  It is like a general store that provides most everything that Navajo people are used to buying for every day life,  special occasions and the arts. They have gently-used Pendleton blankets for half off the normal price of the new robes.  I bought one.  As some of you know, I have designed and sewn button robes using these Pendleton blankets as the body of the robe.  I am excited about the design I will do for this robe!


Categories: Arts & Culture

Bill Sherwonit: The Selling of Animal Stories

49 Writers - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 7:00am

Printed copies of Animal Stories are now in warehouses scattered across the U.S. (and also available in electronic form). And so it begins: the selling of Animal Stories. Actually, the selling—or marketing—of the book began months ago, even as I was working with a copy editor on polishing and improving the manuscript.
One of the first steps was to find a strong cover image. The initial cover art sent to me by Graphic Arts Books (GAB) staff was disappointing. A photo of moose lying in an open field seemed too busy. And too pastoral. I was reminded of cows lazing in a pasture. I was happy, though, that the publisher sought my opinion. If this image didn’t work for me, I asked myself, what exactly did I envision? After looking at the covers of some other wildlife books, I knew what I wanted. First, a “clean,” dramatic image seemed essential. Preferably it would be a close-up, something that suggested an intimate encounter. And if at all possible it should be a picture of an uncommon animal, taken in the wild (but of course one that I write about in the book). The two animals that immediately came to mind were wolverine and lynx.
Editor Kathy Howard liked my suggestion that I contact some of the Alaskan nature/wildlife photographers I know and see what they had to offer, so I reached out to a half-dozen or so, explaining my desires. In a matter of days, lots of excellent images poured in, featuring wolves, bears, moose, Dall sheep, musk ox, porcupines, and more. No one submitted a wolverine picture. But Denali-area resident Tom Walker provided some stunning close-up photos of a lynx. They were exactly the sort of images I’d imagined. Happily, the GAB staff wholeheartedly agreed. Kathy sent me a draft cover designed by Vicki Knapton and I knew we had a winner. The image is striking and seems likely to draw attention even from a distance. Already, several people who’ve seen the cover have praised the image. I couldn’t be happier with the wrapping that encloses my essays.
At about the same time I hunted for a cover photo, I began seeking endorsements/blurbs for the book. I wanted a mix of Alaskan and “outside” authors and made a list of possibilities. Those included national “A List” authors known for their writing about wild nature, like Barry Lopez, Terry Tempest Williams, Mary Oliver, and Gary Snyder. I’d met Williams and Snyder, but only briefly, and had no personal connections to either Lopez or Oliver. But all are among my favorite writers, people whose body of work I deeply respect and whose writings (whether prose or poetry) have inspired me and, I’m certain, informed my own. I didn’t get endorsements from any of them, but I did receive a lovely personal note from Barry Lopez, no small thing.
In the end, I got a perfect mix of endorsements from people whose work I greatly admire. These include Alaskans Eva Saulitis, Nick Jans, and Gary Holthaus and two others who, curiously enough, both happen to live in New Mexico: Sharman Apt Russell (whose books include a new favorite of mine, Standing in the Light: My Life as Pantheist, which illuminates and feeds my own pantheistic leanings) and Tim Folger, editor of the Best American Science and Nature Writing series. I thank each of the five for their time, support, and generous comments.
Even while chasing down the cover photo and endorsements (and yes, working on the edits to my essays) I turned to other matters: author events and a list of book review possibilities to share with marketing manager Angie Zbornik. Using my list and one that she had put together, Angie sent copies of the book to a substantial number of publications. Still awaiting those reviews . . .
We put together an initial schedule of five local events, with more to come. These include talks and readings at the Alaska Professional Communicators monthly meeting on Oct. 2; the Loussac Library’s Wilda Marston Theater on Oct. 16; the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center (which will feature a conversation with retired wildlife manager and now Alaska Dispatch News contributor, Rick Sinnott) on Oct. 23; and the Eagle River Nature Center on Nov. 9. Somewhere down the trail, I will also give a 49 Writers Reading and Craft Talk (still to be determined).
One other event merits special mention: over the past couple of years I’ve felt an ever-stronger pull toward the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (AUUF for short), a group of people who’ve warmly welcomed me into their community. With the encouragement (and I suppose you might say blessing) of Minister Gary Holthaus (also an accomplished author, essayist, and poet and a good friend who’s among those to write an endorsement for my book) and others in the fellowship, I will have my personal “book launch” at the AUUF on Oct. 5. This means a great deal to me and I eagerly anticipate that special event.
So, what else? Social media, of course. Though I don’t personally spend much time on Facebook (nor do I tweet on Twitter), with Angie’s invaluable help I now have an “Animal Stories by Bill Sherwonit” Facebook page. If you haven’t gone there, consider checking it out; and if you feel it’s worthy, please “like” the page. This, I have learned, is all part of the process. I’ve actually found myself enjoying the periodic updates and sharing excerpts from the book. Naturally I’ve also updated my own website,, and I’m putting together some group emails that I’ll send around to family, friends and colleagues, to inform them Animal Stories has been published.
Of course I’ve also used this series of postings on the 49 Writers blogsite to help spread the word about Animal Stories, while offering what I hope are helpful insights into the writing and publishing process. As many others have written, both here and elsewhere, nowadays authors bear what seems to be an ever-bigger part of the marketing/selling load. Most writers are in this for the writing itself, the craft and art; but especially among those of us for whom writing is both vocation and avocation, the publication of books (or essays or other short literary forms) and finding an audience for our stories is indeed a business, and an essential part of the writing life. 
A transplanted New Englander, nature writer Bill Sherwonit has made Anchorage his home since 1982. He’s contributed essays, articles, and commentaries to a wide variety of publications and is the author of more than a dozen books. His newest, Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife, will be published this fall by Alaska Northwest Books. His website is
Categories: Arts & Culture

Banned Books Week 2014, take 2

Juneau Public Library Blog - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 5:19pm
In day two of Banned Books Week 2014 we’ll have a look at a classic, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. According to, Kern County, California has the great honor both of being the setting of Steinbeck’s novel and being the first place where it was banned (1939). Objections to profanity—especially goddamn and the […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

Boating Safety Offer

Parks and Recreation Special Events - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 2:07pm
Date of Event: Tuesday, Sep 23 - Community Schools Fall 2014 is offering About Boating Safety. This boating safety class is being taught by the Coast Guard Auxiliary and will give you the knowledge needed to obtain a boating safety certificate in Alaska. This course is a National Association of Boating Law Administrators course recognized nationwide. Many boat insurance companies will offer a discount to boaters who have successfully completed About Boating Safely instruction. Click on the link for class information. DATES ARE: October 19; 1 to 5 p.m. and October 26; 1 to 6 p.m. at Thunder Mountain High School Library, $30 per person ($50 per couple) pay at class Oct. 19. Contact Stuart Robards (
Categories: Arts & Culture, Outdoors

Andromeda: Intimate and Explicit Scenes--Are You Up for the Challenge?

49 Writers - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 6:00am
The seats are filling, but we still have room in the upcoming 4-week class, "Writing the Intimate and the Explicit," which will meet Wednesday nights beginning Oct 1 from 6:30-8:30 pm. To get a sense of the questions and exercises that will be featured, read my original June post on the topic, to which I'll add two updates:
1. I gave a lecture on this topic at the UAA MFA residency in July, and the brief afternoon class was energetically attended and full of opinionated discussion, a-ha moments, and lots of laughter. With so little time, we had a chance to wade into the uproarious subject of truly awful sex scene writing, but we did not get to many examples of good sex writing (which is, by necessity, more variable and harder to pin down). Nor did we get to put ideas into practice with more than a few minutes of writing exercises. This 49 Writers class will be different. We'll have time to read, to laugh, to discuss, and also to write--lots.  
2. I want to be clear: we will be looking at these issues from a literary perspective,  which is to say, we'll be examining moments and scenes that contribute to story, character, theme, and so on. If you're hoping to write the next 50 Shades of Grey, good for you, but this class may not get you there. If, on the other hand, you're trying to figure out how handling key scenes with attention to craft (diction, figurative language, POV and more) may add life to your story, novel, or memoir, please join us. We all have lots to learn. If you're interested, read on...

This blogpost was originally published on June 5, 2014 as "The Hardest Three Letters to Write"
In twenty years of writing fiction and nonfiction, I’ve written perhaps seven passages that would qualify as “sex scenes,” from small moments of intimacy to explicit dramatizations of blush-worthy behaviors.
I’ve published about half of those scenes in novels.
That ratio of practice to publication is not exemplary; I’d much rather say I’d written dozens or hundreds of intimate passages and shared publicly only the least clichéd, the most true and well-crafted.  
Instead, I simply jumped in—perhaps fewer times than I should have—holding my breath. I did my best (in some cases, relying on humor), worried and winced, did little revision, received minimal feedback before or after publication. Like many authors and most if not all of my writing students, I assumed I was handling the material awkwardly and mildly fretted about the final result, while secretly hoping I didn’t do too badly after all, but also aware that I might never know for sure. (This type of timid fretting and vain hoping is not the way to develop a thick skin or a solid writer’s toolbox!)
Julian Barnes mocks some top authors sex-writing gaffes—including John Updike’s comparison of the male member to a yam—and explains the problem in a wonderful, all-too-brief and not particularly R-rated collection of academic essays called Explaining the Explicit, published as a Kindle single.

Barnes writes, “(As a novelist) I faced the same questions: how much do you tell/show/imply/elide/omit? What words do you use and what effect are you trying to have? Is writing about sex the same as writing about any other human activity—say, gardening or cricket – or is there a fundamental difference of category? And how is it best done?”
Sex, like death and love, is something that veers too easily into received ideas and strained metaphors. The most essential human experiences can be the hardest to write about without risking embarrassment, melodrama, or purple prose. Which doesn’t necessarily mean we should avoid them.
What I do know for sure: Acts of physical and emotional intimacy are not only natural, but are an extremely powerful way to reveal character. (In some stories, they are key to advancing plot as well.)
As Barnes says, “How someone behaves intimately is an invaluable guide to their nature and personal history; sometimes predictable, sometimes surprising, sometimes quite out of supposed character.”
Unlike, say, writing scenes about people talking, eating food, or driving cars from place to place (scenes I’ve written hundreds of times), we underpractice sex scenes and yet hope—without reason to hope—to succeed. But how can we? Writing requires practice, risk, feedback, reflection, distance, stamina, redrafting. If we treat writing sex like disposing of a dead cockroach—do it as quickly as possible, while looking away—how on earth are we supposed to get better at it?
WHAT IF we decided that writing about sex –by which I choose to mean realistic sex written about in a larger storytelling context, not erotica per se and not pornography (always subjectively defined, of course)--is a powerful way to practice better writing, in general? By better writing I mean selective use of concrete detail, shaping of scene with conflict and change or lack of change in mind, attention to tone and language, attention to setting, consideration of narrative stance, consideration of the most effective POV, manipulation of tension and suspense, experimentation with voice. 
WHAT IF we gave ourselves challenges, using a complete palette of narrative techniques: Write a scene that ends before the sex actually starts. Write a scene that begins just where the sex ended. Tinker with summary versus scene; explode or condense the action. Play with time and the filter of memory. Write a scene about older people having sex, about people of vastly different ages or backgrounds. Freewrite, not for public consumption, about what boundaries we choose to draw, about what we dare not write, and perhaps why. Write about a moment of intimacy that creates a shift in power, about a misunderstanding. Write about sex between people who have just met, who have just divorced, who have been married fifty years, who might be dying, who just had a first child, who know someone is listening, who decide mid-way through it was a bad idea, who discovered something new about themselves in the brief duration of a charged moment. Change the setting. Write about sex in a different time period, culture, or both. Write explicitly. Write obliquely. Use humor. Now try being serious. Write about sex that created a secret or cracked open a secret. Turn an autobiographical episode into fiction. Reflect on a passage from a favorite or influential novel in order to discover something about your own early sexual ideas and influences, autobiographically. Read some examples of the worst sex writing as chosen by literary judges (again, noting that even respectable literati are on the Guardian's worst offenders’ list). Write the worst passage you can. Write a poem or prose passage and let it be as bad as you can make it, metaphorically awful and wince-making. Now set it aside and write something from the heart. All writing is self-exposure.
WHAT IF we dared to share such writings in a workshop? 
Join us! 
Andromeda Romano-Lax is the author of The Spanish Bow and The Detour. She is a co-founder of 49 Writers and teaches in the UAA MFA low-residency creative writing program. She is also a book coach with a special interest in revision, narrative structure, and the lifelong development of the writer. Contact her at for more info on her book coaching services.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Banned Books Week 2014

Juneau Public Library Blog - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 4:46pm
Today is the start of Banned Books Week 2014. The graphic novel The Color of Earth is usually banned or challenged for nudity, sex education, being sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group. Is it really that bad? Why don’t you check it out and judge for yourself?
Categories: Arts & Culture

VOLUNTEER Soccer Coaches needed

Parks and Recreation Special Events - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 1:05pm
Date of Event: Monday, Sep 22 - If you are an adult with some extra time or a High School student that needs Community Services hours - consider VOLUNTEERING to coach this year's Indoor Soccer. Call Amanda at 586-5226 for more information.
Categories: Arts & Culture, Outdoors


Parks and Recreation Special Events - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 12:57pm
Date of Event: Monday, Sep 22 - Auke Lake Buoys will be removed from Auke Lake shortly. The Boat Launch Gate is open until significant ice covers the lake. The No-Wake Zones and areas where motorized vessels are prohibited remain in effect. If you need additional information you can contact P&R at 586-5226.
Categories: Arts & Culture, Outdoors


Parks and Recreation Special Events - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 11:31am
Date of Event: Monday, Sep 22 - THANK YOU for a wonderful 2014 DAY OF PLAY. We had a great turnout and really appreciate the support of our sponsors! Thank You!!
Categories: Arts & Culture, Outdoors

Douglass Bourne: Hookers, Place, and Writing Workshop

49 Writers - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 7:00am
A few weeks ago I drove a friend, Loggerhead, from Healy to his dry cabin on the south side of Denali Park. I think he earned the nickname when he worked in Everglades decades ago. I met him more than ten years ago when we both worked for the concessionaire that provides bus transportation into Denali.
In the years since we first worked together, Loggerhead has built cabins in the National Petroleum Reserve, built other things in Antarctica, earned a special sailing license in South Africa, sailed around icebergs off the coast of Greenland, transported boats around the Bahamas, among many other adventures. The winds have carried him far away from Alaska.
He was visiting Denali for part of the summer to heal an injury. After visiting the Galapagos and sailing towards Fiji (I think he was sailing to Fiji), he stopped off at a tiny little island in the Pacific that nobody except sailors has ever heard of. It was a one bar kind of island. The tourist activities included scuba or horseback riding. Loggerhead went riding up a mountainside, got thrown off a horse, and tore his rotator cuff. Turns out he needed surgery.
Where does Loggerhead go to recover from surgery? Denali Park, of course. It was a pleasure to meet up again. During the drive we talked about far away places, but eventually I began talking about a writing project I completed last spring. The gist of the story: a Christopher McCandless type character drops out and kayaks from the Carolinas up the Interior Waterway to the Jersey shore. There he becomes stuck and has to navigate the consumerism elitist society, or the middle-class society who needs to behave like elitist—sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between them.
I wrote about that culture without ever visiting New Jersey. Nor have I watched TV shows featuring the urban environments. To get a feeling for the place, I looked at a lot of maps and viewed many photos of the area. I thought about the egos of people I met when visiting coastal Massachusetts. I added in the consumer culture I knew from living on the coast of North Carolina. Most of all, I wrote from my imagination. What would the place look like? How would the people behave in this place? What kind of people would this character encounter?
I had forgotten that Loggerhead grew up in New Jersey. He actually spent the first couple weeks recovering from surgery back home on his father’s couch. He said I nailed the materialistic culture. I nailed the boardwalks above the waterway. I nailed the clash (or sometimes blind eyes) of the rich and the poor. I nailed it all without ever being there. “The only thing you missed,” Loggerhead said. “You need hookers. Can’t forget the hookers.”
He was right. I did need the protagonist to talk to hookers; however, hookers are really beside the point right now. The larger idea I want to reach with this anecdote is that it is possible to write about place, authentically, without ever “being there.”
Place writing is one of those funny little concepts that can be difficult to pin down. Trying to define it is like trying to define home. Do you have to live in a place a certain amount of years before it becomes home? Does Loggerhead have a home? Can a sailboat be a home?
Place writing is not just physical details, not just writing where the setting becomes a character. Place writing can be setting centered, in the case of James Galvin’s The Meadow that is most certainly true. Most of the time, place writing is just as much about the attitudes, the culture, and the values of the writer or the characters. I think John Milton describes my point in Paradise Lost:
… Farewel happy Fields             Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail             Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell             Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings             A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.             The mind is its own place, and in it self             can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
Place writing is about perspective within an environment.
During the month of October I will teach a place-writing workshop on Thursday evenings. We will try to better understand place writing. How is place important to your writing? How do you authentically write about a place that exists in your imagination? What is poetry of place?Many writers like to focus on one genre, which is great, but I believe good writers should read everything they can get their hands on. Each genre can inform the others, so this writing workshop is open to all genres.
We will read some examples of place writing, and we will workshop what you bring to class. I also have some writing exercises planned that will remind us of the power of language and help us generate material. I don’t want to over plan the workshop with readings. I have some ideas to get us started, but I want to devise readings that will meet then needs of those who are in attendance. I hope to see you there.  

Douglass Bourne worked as a tour guide in Denali for nearly a decade. He earned an MA from Western Illinois University, followed by an MFA from University of North Carolina—Wilmington, where he served as Nonfiction Editor of Ecotone: Reimagining Place. Douglass teaches in the English Department at UAA and is faculty advisor to the undergraduate creative writing magazine, Understory. His screenplay won a Sir Edmund Hillary Award at the 2011 Mountain Film Festival, and his poetry and prose have appeared in a wide variety of literary journals. Beginning Oct. 2, Douglass will be teaching a course in for 49 Writers called "Claiming Your Place." Register today!
Categories: Arts & Culture

Discover Eaglecrest Day

Juneau Public Library Blog - Thu, 09/18/2014 - 2:12pm
September 20, 2014 – 11:00 AM Join us at Eaglecrest in the lodge and outside and share stories for all the seasons. Follow the story path signs outside to go on a bear hunt or follow the salmon stream or come inside for special story times to get you ready for winter. Fun, free and […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

Alaska Shorts: Up Mountain, by Samuel Chamberlain

49 Writers - Thu, 09/18/2014 - 7:00am
They’d been begging to take me up mountain for days, but I kept us in the classroom. I am their new white teacher, dedicated.  Our schoolhouse is built upon stilts poised above the permafrost. The building’s red has begun to match the fiery colors in the changing tundra; it’s late August in Alaska’s northern most latitudes.           
Black spruce grows in patches across the valley. At its lowest terraces, alder and willow, already gone from green to golden, live around the bogs and atop the cut banks of the East Fork of the Chandalar River.  Spruce stands of stunted, spindly trees—like dirty pipe cleaners—thin with elevation and latitude, clinging denser in the draws until reaching the terminus of tree line, far below the summit’s shoulders. The Brooks Range lines the north and west of the river, an aged wall of scree slopes and immense ridges some with exposed vertebrae. Hills rise to the south and east from Vashràii K’oo, rolling and sloping downward all the way to the flats of the Yukon River. In between the mountains and the hills, along the river and the kettle lakes, amid the tundra and the tussocks, lives the Gwich’in of Arctic Village—the caribou people.
“Dachanlee, holy mountain, sacred mountain,” they teach me as we walk a four-wheeler path leading away from the school.
The village is more spread out than most. We walk through the last collection of six or seven homes, some log, others fuchsia and baby-blue hud style, then we’re in the wilderness. The path meanders around ponds and through wood lots where men will come for firewood once the land is locked in winter. Today summer is like a fall afternoon. The students wear thin black hoodies and faded jeans.
The upper limits of the forest, before the terminus of trees, are haven for hunting camps.  Most are vacant, as the caribou have skirted farther from the village this year, but still obvious by their old exoskeletons—trees skinned and lashed, stones collected as a fire pit.
Dachanlee’s upper slopes seem sparse, solemn, but teem with life. The trail wanes to dirt single-track, the taiga becomes alpine tundra. Our pace slows as the slope steepens. We wander. With each step the ground gives then pushes back, breathing into us. The tundra exhales the last of the mosquito and gnat, but they are batted down in the breeze. Flakey lichen stains the rocks chartreuse and also lives like a spongy pillow in-between the shrub.  I kick at the porous plant and it disintegrates. Two students make antlers with thumbs growing from brow, fingers pointed skyward, then click their jaws and lick their lips.
“Food,” they say. “For caribou.”
It’s hard to imagine a more resilient animal living off a more distasteful looking plant. We find a rack of antlers, but they weren’t shed, the skull is attached, not decomposed but gnawed upon. Nearby there are two scapulas and many ribs.
“Zhoh,” they say. “Zhoh —wolf, caribou food.”
I reach for the animal’s calcified headgear but a student stops me.
“No,” they say. “Bad luck to touch those—we should leave them.”
The village is four miles away but near enough. The runway is the most significant feature. A conveyance to the outside world, it’s a linear scar surrounded by an organic geometry. Then the school—filled with its curriculums and its interventions and its western education—sticking out like an arena in a metropolis. Some of my students live in the brightly painted new homes, radiating like Easter eggs or art deco above the Arctic Circle. The traditional log cabins are mere shadows in the valley floor.
The earth smells fresh here. I bend and reach for the tiny forest growing beneath my feet. Like a hound I circulate my nose above the soft edged needles growing in shoots from the bushy carpet.
“Lidii,” a student says. He grabs a bunch and stuffs it in his pockets. “To take to my auntie—tundra tea.”
I go prone and bury my face into the prickly earth. It smells like time, musky, but with a familiarity I want to wrap around myself. The students giggle. I roll to my back, propped up on elbows. Flakes of caribou lichen stick in my beard. Today I am not their teacher. 
Samuel Chamberlain is a writer, teacher, and social activist living in Fairbanks, Alaska. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction at Pacific University in Oregon’s low-residency program. His work has appeared in O-Dark-Thirty. He can be reached at:
Would you like to see your work featured here? Check out the Alaska Shorts guidelines and submit today!

Categories: Arts & Culture


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