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Writers express themselves in 'Driftwood' magazine

Posted: Thursday, April 29, 2004

A surprising number of productive and otherwise respected members of society lead secret, double lives.

The evidence is well-documented.

Real estate agents, industrial welders and kindergarten teachers by day slink off at night to poorly lit, cramped little rooms to torture themselves over le mot juste the right word as they hammer and polish language into poems, short stories and novels.

The works of these midnight poets and writers often sees print for the first time in literary magazines published by colleges and universities.

"Driftwood," the literary magazine of Kenai Peninsula College, is one such venue.

The magazine is in its 15th year of publishing poems, stories, essays and artwork by students of the college and residents of the Kenai Peninsula, as well as by contributors from other parts of the state.

The magazine that would become "Driftwood" began in 1989 as a project in professor Barbara Christian's creative writing class. She and her students produced a staple-bound booklet of student work called "Mind's Eye."

The next year, Christian's class continued the project but changed the booklet's name to "Migrations." In 1992, the project was dubbed "Driftwood," but still only published student writing. The magazine began its current form in 1995, when it first solicited submissions from the public through a joint writing contest with the Peninsula Clarion.

"That boosted 'Driftwood' into a community project and now it invites (submissions) from across Alaska," Christian said.

Christian has edited the magazine since its first incarnation as a student-writing project. In recent years, however, more work has been submitted by the general public than by students.

"Surprisingly, I get few submissions out of creative writing classes," Christian said.

She thinks a lot of students don't submit because they don't think their work is good enough and they're afraid of rejection. Although she can't promise publication, Christian encourages her students to take a chance and submit whatever they feel is their best work.

 

Barbara Christian holds up back issues of 'Driftwood' in her office at Kenai Peninsula College. Christian has edited the literary magazine since 1989, when it began as a project in a creative writing class she taught.

Photo by Mark Harrison

To alleviate the fear of students in other creative writing classes, Christian makes a personal appearance at the end of the semester to solicit submissions and convince the students she's human.

"I try to show them I'm not an ogre and I really do want to see their work," she said.

Victoria Steik was convinced.

Steik, who is an accountant at KPC, submitted work to "Driftwood" after taking a memoir class from Christian a couple years ago. Steik had been writing on her own for some time, but had never submitted anything for publication. She considered "Driftwood" a "classy" journal and wasn't sure her work would make the literary cut.

"I was very nervous and very delighted when my pieces were chosen," she said. "It was kind of a confirmation that my work was not just average."

Steik credits publication of her poems and creative nonfiction in "Driftwood" with giving her the confidence to send her work elsewhere. She has since been published in other literary magazines and newspapers.

If she hadn't taken a chance on submitting to "Driftwood," Steik said, "I'd probably still be sitting at home with a bunch of written work that hadn't seen the light of day."

Mike Dinkel has published both written and art work in recent issues of "Driftwood." He points out that the magazine provides a much-needed outlet for creative work on the peninsula.

"There aren't a lot of venues around here," Dinkel said. "It's one of the only places (to publish) we really have locally."

Dinkel left college in the early 1970s to fish commercially. He returned to school a few years ago to pursue a bachelor's degree in art at KPC.

Dinkel calls writing "just a thing I've always done."

He is especially appreciative of "Driftwood" as a creative outlet since he doesn't participate in another venue available to area writers: open mic nights.

"Readings are fine, but I'm not really into those poetry-slam things," he said.

Although "Driftwood" has become a valuable venue for Alaska writers and artists, it's also been an erratic one.

A handful of volunteers put together an issue after about 100 pages of material have been accepted. On average, an issue comes out every year and a half.

The last issue came out in 2003. The next is planned for spring 2005. With it, Christian hopes to take the magazine national.

In the fall, she plans to advertise for submissions in trade journals with national circulations, such as Poets & Writers.

Christian hopes to receive poems, stories and essays from across the country, but plans to keep the focus on Alaska writers.

"I'm mostly interested in Alaska and the local population to give them a showcase," Christian said. "But they get better exposure if ('Driftwood') is read elsewhere."

Christian doesn't place any restrictions on the kind of work the magazine will publish. The important ingredient is originality.

"I'm open to just about anything, if it offers something unusual," she said. "Something with some heart to it, something with substance."

She hopes to receive work that reaches for "a new and fresh look at human experience."

The spring semester ends in a couple weeks, but writers who'd like to submit manuscripts don't have to wait until fall. Submissions to the magazine will be accepted over the summer.

Writers can submit their work by mail to: Driftwood, Barbara Christian, Editor, 34820 College Drive, Soldotna, AK 99669. Art submissions are by invitation of the KPC art department.

Roughly a third of the manuscripts submitted are accepted. Before submitting, writers are advised to read the magazine to get an idea of the kind of work published in "Driftwood."

The current issue is available at the KPC Bookstore and River City Books in Soldotna.



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