Sales of first Velma Wallis book pass one million

Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Sales of ''Two Old Women,'' the first book written by Fairbanks writer Velma Wallis, have topped one million.

The milestone makes the shy and unassuming Wallis, who grew up in Fort Yukon, Alaska's most popular living writer.

Wallis' award-winning re-creation of a Gwich'in survival legend recently surpassed a million copies in sales in 17 languages, according to Epicenter Press, which published the original hard-bound edition of ''Two Old Women'' nine years ago.

Total U.S. sales of a quarter million books places ''Two Old Women'' well ahead of any other work of literature by a resident Alaskan.

Even the heavily promoted memoir by Jewel Kilcher -- the singer-songwriter who left Alaska 10 years ago to become an international pop star -- has sold only a fraction as many books to U.S. readers, according to industry lists.

But it's the overseas market -- especially Germany -- where Wallis' book really took off, according to Epicenter president Kent Sturgis. Three separate German-language editions of ''Two Old Women'' have now sold more than 660,000 copies.

The book is also popular in Spain, where a Spanish edition has sold 49,000 copies so far.

Even so, it's hard to find any of the trappings of celebrity status in the life that Wallis leads with her husband and three children in a second-story apartment in the low-income Fairview Manor housing project in inner-city Fairbanks.

Though she's earned hundreds of thousands of dollars, she hasn't bought a house. She likes the Fairview Manor apartment because it allows her to walk her children to school.

She hasn't bought a fancy car. She doesn't even drive.

She hasn't traveled much. They live in Fairbanks to be close to her ailing mother, but both Wallis and her husband -- Jeffrey John, a seasonally employed Venetie trapper -- want to return to village Alaska.

She hasn't hoarded her money either, Wallis said. She's given a lot of it to family and friends.

''It's given me the means to live comfortably, and I try to help family members out when I can,'' she said. ''But the first eight years, I think I just gave money away. ... wanting to share the wealth.

''My big fear was I didn't want to be an overnight success story and flaunt my money in front of people, because that's not why I became a writer.''

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