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An Invitation: Savor the Rising Words Poetry Broadside Exhibit

49 Writers - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 5:00am

When I was a little girl, my mother remembered me carrying around little notebooks for my “pomes” and pictures, filling them with words and pencil drawings. Most have now gone missing. During college, I kept occasional journals filled with sketches and poems of longing and love, much of it unrequited. Most of these, embarrassingly, survive.  Then for decades, almost no poems or images found their way to paper as life and career took me in other directions. But I think they were only lying dormant, because when I needed them, they came back.
First after losing my father, when poetry helped me sort through the emotional storm and save the good memories. Then after losing a friend to cancer, when recounting our last time together in a poem brought comfort. Then after losing my mother, when the ground shifted and tiny poems helped keep me moored. Whenever grief came to my door, it brought poetry.
But slowly poems tagged along at other times as well, however clumsily. Little wisps of paper collected on my desk attempting to describe the beauty of leaves caught in ice, the tracks of a bear in winter, why woodpeckers seem so much hungrier at the bird feeder than chickadees. I’ve never studied poetry seriously, and know little about it from a literary perspective except what I’ve gleaned recently from 49 Writers workshops and sessions at the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference. So I have much to learn about craft, and volumes to read. I try to stand by the fire each morning and speak a few poems out loud, three times each. Many I don’t understand, but when one resonates – when I think I “get it” – it feels like a long deep breath.   
It was Christmas time several years ago when I was about to write our traditional letter to family and friends. It had been a good year – a great year in fact – and the letter I wrote gushed accordingly. Only after finalizing it and feeling a warm glow of pride in everything we had done did I realize that I’d written one of those Christmas letters. The kind that subtly looks down its nose at all who receive it, asking “how could your year/family/children/achievements possibly be as wonderful as mine?” I sunk a bit, realizing this. All my life, we had joked about the families who sent us those letters, the ones to which we could never measure up. I put my letter aside. Maybe I could try writing a poem instead. Something that could share a joy of the season, something more like a gift. So I wrote a poem about walking around our neighborhood in new-fallen snow, and took a snowy photo to go with it. A new tradition was born, and I haven’t written a Christmas letter since.
Which is perhaps why I felt the thrill of possibilities when I attended the workshop on poetry broadsides at the 2013 Kachemak Bay Writer’s Conference. The presenter, an artist-poet, displayed a collection of poems printed deeply into beautiful, thick papers on a letterpress. Each was accompanied by an image, often in color and embossed also into the paper. The effect was subtle and lovely. A group of us gathered afterwards to page through the collection as if studying a medieval illuminated manuscript, whispering admiration as each new work of art was revealed.
To honor the power of poems and images together, 49 Writers and Great Harvest Bread Co. Anchorage are co-sponsoring Savor the Rising Words: A Poetry Broadside Invitational, an exhibit to commemorate National Poetry Month in April. The exhibit is open to anyone who is a member of 49 Writers or has ever taken a 49 Writers class. Any two-dimensional format will be accepted – whether photography, painting, printmaking, drawing, etc. You don’t have to use a letterpress! Submissions are due March 20, and you can click here for details and an entry form. You have nearly three weeks left to let the creativity flow and share your work, and I hope you will do so. Because poetry is a gift, any time of year.
Barbara Hood is a retired attorney, member of 49 Writers, and co-owner of Great Harvest Bread Co. in Anchorage.

Categories: Arts & Culture

Folk Fest is coming . . .

Alaska Crafter - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 9:15am
I had the stupendous opportunity to make the 2015 Alaska Folk Fest poster!  It was TOTALLY nerve-wracking and exciting to make this piece for all the Folk Festers out there.  I wanted the design to reflect springtime in Alaska and the frenetic frenzy that I feel comes with Folk Fest.  It always feels like something big is coming at this time of year - people are everywhere, days are getting long, anticipation for summer is in the air, and it's starting to get warm.  On every corner you'll find musicians collaborating and folks of all sizes dancing up a storm.  The energy is palpable, so I tried to have the poster reflect that sense of energy and excitement with layers of little surprises that remind me of Alaska. I mean, who doesn't like a treasure hunt?!

See if you can find . . . an octopus, fiddlehead ferns, a seiner, waves, beer, rain, trees, birds, whales, northern lights, forget-me-nots, seaweed, mountains, plaid, scales, feathers, and devils club.  Just to name a few ;)
Categories: Arts & Culture

From the Archives: Jim McLain - Confessions of an Alaska Screenwriter

49 Writers - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 5:00am

I apparently am one of the first three (and hopefully not the last) Alaskan screenwriters to be asked to be a guest blogger for 49 Writers. That being the case, I thought it might be expedient to start out by explaining the differences between screenwriting and other forms of writing. I’ll try not to bore you.

Consider that you have just spent the last six months doing a dazzling essay or poem or short story or novel or stage play about say . . . Edger Allen Poe. You have edited it to a tee and it is all ready to send to a publisher. Assume also you find a publisher who loves your essay, etc. and who agrees to publish it. The publisher might request a minor league amount of further editing, but ultimately it is published and basically cast in stone. If you are a playwright, one of the strongest traditions of the stage is that there is an almost slavish adherence to “the book;” the words and actions written in the script. God help the poor actor or director who goes “off book.”
Now consider the screenwriter. He or she writes a brilliant screenplay about Mr. Poe of between 90 and 120 pages. It is a scintillating drama dealing with the alcohol abuse that led to his death at a young age. First the writer has to find a producer who is willing and able to raise somewhere between $25,000 to $100,000,000 depending on the script and the stars attached to have the film made. Given that there are thousands upon thousands of screenplays making the rounds at any given moment, the chance of successfully finding such a producer is, at best, poor.

Let’s say you amazingly actually find a producer who loves your screenplay and wants to make it into a movie. You are nowhere near done. Maybe the producer actually has access to the money needed to make the movie – in which case the producer buys the rights to the film for whatever you agree to sell it for. The selling price could be anywhere from nothing to a bazillion dollars. This doesn’t mean you will ever see a film made from your screenplay. Once you sell your rights, the script might well sit on a shelf forever gathering dust. Just because they own a script doesn’t mean they have any duty to film it.
On the other hand, maybe the producer doesn’t have the money readily available. In that case, you may sell an “option” to the producer. That gives the producer the option to buy the script for a set period of time at a set amount. An option usually lasts a year or two. The producer can use that time to raise the money to make the movie. The problem with this is that you can’t sell the script to anyone else during the time it is optioned. Let’s say you option your script for $25 on Tuesday, and on Wednesday another producer wants to pay you $1,000,000 for your script. Guess what, you’re stuck for however long the option lasts. In the mean time, the million dollar deal may well evaporate.

Just for grins, let’s say that you sold the film to a producer that can, and does, actually raise the money needed to make the film. Smooth sailing from now on, right? Wrong! Next the script goes to a series of film minions whose various jobs are to fold, spindle, and mutilate your script to fit it to the contours of their visions of what the story should be.  Maybe the producer wants to give a role to his or her third cousin on Great Aunt Sadie’s side of the family; you may have do a rewrite. The director has a different world view; you may have to do a rewrite.  Maybe a named actor wants more lines; you may have to do a rewrite.

Recently, in a film I wrote, the director called me and told me an actor was about to leave the state and would not be able to finish the film. Since the film was more than half done and she was in a significant number of scenes, reshooting the role was not an option. His directive: “You need to kill her.” I had to do a significant rewrite.

Even if you are lucky enough to sell the film, have it made, and are allowed to do the rewrites (as opposed to some script doctor who destroys your story), you still have to worry that the director and/or actors have such a different vision of the story that your carefully drafted historical drama may somehow morph into a slasher/porno/musical extravaganza. It has happened. Not to me . . . yet. But the day is young.
So if it is such a pain, why do I do it? Because to see your words turned into a moving, living, breathing tableau on the screen while you sit in a dark room watching it all unfold before your eyes is a thrill I cannot describe. God help me, I love it.

At the time this post first ran in 2010, Jim McLain was a 57 year old screenwriter who had lived in Alaska for 34 years. His first feature film, “Snow Angels," was being completed and is due out in fall of 2011. His second feature film, “The Doppelganger Principle” starring Ed Asner, was scheduled to begin shooting on October 3, 2011. Principle photography and post-production for both films was in Anchorage, Alaska

Hope springs eternal . . .
Categories: Arts & Culture

Round Up of News & Events

49 Writers - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 7:00am
There are some exiting new opportunities in this week's Round Up! Check out the

  • Sitka Fellows Program is looking for writers under 30 for their seven week residency this summer. What a fantastic opportunity for young writers!
  • Great Harvest Bread Co. and 49 Writers are looking for beautiful words/beautiful images for Savor the Rising Words Poetry Broadside Invitational in honor of National Poetry Month. Submission deadline is March 20. 

Reminders of deadlines soon upon us:
Remember to check out Rachel Weaver -- formerly of Petersburg and the Forest Service in Alaska -- who's in Anchorage, Palmer, and Juneau this week. There's still time to register for her class in Anchorage on Saturday, or in Juneau on Monday & Tuesday. You can join her for dinner via Fireside Books in Palmer (Friday), or at the new Literary Happy Hour on Sunday in JNU.  Check out the details below.

Happy Writing!

Sunday, April 5–Saturday, May 16
Online, asynchronous

Most writing is re-writing, and in this class, we will bring our novel and creative nonfiction works-in-progress to the next level, revising at both micro and macro levels for language, structure, character arc, and more. We will reverse outline, identify common errors or weaknesses, and explore the differences between polishing and radical revision. Students should have a novel or memoir that is at least half-drafted, and preferably all or mostly drafted. This will be a workshop-intensive class. Suitable for intermediate or advanced level writers, open to fiction and nonfiction.with Andromeda Romano-Lax. Registration info here.Andromeda is the noted author of  three novels: The Detour, The Spanish Bow, and the forthcoming Behave, plus a number of nonfiction titles. She's a one of the founders of 49 Writers and on the faculty of the low residency MFA at UAA.

49 Writers Spring Classes: Anchorage. You can still register for classes starting this week! Find full information on the 49 Writers website.
  • Writing the Three Dimensional Novel or Memoir with Rachel Weaver. Saturday, February 28, 9am-4pm at 161 E. 1st Ave., Door 15. $95 member/$115 nonmember.

Be a part of Anchorage Reads 2015! Kicking off February 20th and running through March 20th, Anchorage Reads is a one-book/one community reading program promoting literacy, love of reading and facilitating community discussions. The Raven's Gift by local author Don Rearden is this year’s selection. Events include
  • The Raven's Gift Reader's Theatre, Loussac Library-Wilda Marston, March 12, 7pm
  • Book & Brew Rondy, Anchorage Community Works, March 13, 8pm
  • Author Talk, Loussac Library-Wilda Marston, Thursday, March 19, 7pm

March 13th - Jeremy Pataky presents his new book. Hugi-Lewis Studio, 1008 W Northern Lights Blvd. Live poetry from Overwinter, music by Molly McDermott, and book signing. Hors d'ouevres and cash beer + wine bar. Live music and poetry start at 7 pm, doors open at 6:30.

UAA Bookstore events in March. All events at the UAA Campus Bookstore. There are many more events on a wide variety of topics at the bookstore: Click here for details.
  • March 2, 5-7pm: Argumentation: How People Comprehend & Evaluate Argument with Yasuhiro Ozuru
  • March 16, 5-7pm: Logistics in the Falklands War by Kenneth L. Privratsky
  • March 20, 4-6pm: Local Writers Discuss their Works in Progress with Lizzie Newell, Mel Green, Jessica Ramsey Golden, Sheila Sine, Deb Ginsburg
  • March 23, 5-7 Alyse Knorr and Kate Partridge present Time Travel Poetry

EVENTS AROUND ALASKASouthcentral, Mat-Su - Kenai PeninsulaFireside Books invites you to Dinner with Rachel Weaver at the Turkey Red Restaurant, February 27, 2015, 6:30 PM. Meet Rachel Weaver, the author of Point of Direction, a pulse-pounding story set in Southeast Alaska. Point of Direction earned an "Indies Introduce" designation by independent booksellers from around the country. It was also featured in Oprah magazine. We find it beautifully written as well as gripping! You can hear Rachel Weaver talk about her novel while enjoying a fine dinner at Turkey Red! We'll also enjoy live music with the Feral Cats!
Get your tickets here for $25.00 -- or at Fireside Books. If you are a member of the new "Read Alaska Rewards Club" you can buy a ticket with your voucher -- on a first-come/first-serve basis of course.

Juneau & Southeast49 Writers Events
  • Literary Happy Hour with Rachel Weaver. March 1, 4:30-6pm at Coho's 51 Egan Drive, Juneau. Reading, craft talk, and libations. Rachel discuss "Revising Efficiently: Some Techniques to Save Time." 
  • Writing the Three Dimensional Novel or Memoir: Essential ingredients to Capture Your Reader and Engage an Audience: A 49 Writers Class with Rachel Weaver. March 2-3, 6-9pm at UAS Egan Classroom 221. Free to current UAS students; $95 members of 49 Writers/$115 nonmembers. Registration and Full info on the 49 Writers website.

Woosh Kinaadeiyí Open Mic and Poetry Slam: Friday, February 27th at 6:30pm at Centennial Hall, Juneau. The event, co-sponsored by Woosh Kinaadeiyí and the Alaska Library Association 2015 Conference, will be hosted by Christy NaMee Eriksen, Conor Lendrum, and Jonas Lamb, with DJ Manu. This month's theme is "Volumes." It is open to the public, and poets of all ages and abilities are encouraged to perform. Sign up to read at 6 pm.
Woosh Kinaadeiyí is a local nonprofit committed to diversity, inclusive community, and empowering voice. The organization hosts monthly poetry slams and open mics throughout the community. Learn more at
More information about the Alaska Library Association 2015 Conference can be found here:
Contact: Christy NaMee Eriksen, Woosh Kinaadeiyí President, christynamee (at)

BookTalk/Reading: Join author Dave Atcheson as he discusses his latest book: Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas
  • Ketchikan AK, at Parnassus Books, Sun. March 8 4pm
  • Sitka, AK, at Old Harbor Books Mon. March 9, 6pm

Jeremy Pataky Book Tour to celebrate publication of his poetry book Overwinter.
  • Haines Borough Public Library, March 20: Reception followed by Reading in the Round and Book Signing. Free.
  • Skagway Public Library, March 22, 3 pm: Craft Talk and Book Signing. Free.
  • Juneau, Heritage Coffee Roasting Co., March 19, 6 pm: Reading and Signing with Emily Wall. Free.
  • Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, March 24, 6-8pm, Workshop: A Reader's Approach to Poetry. $30 for 49 Writers members/ $35 nonmembers. Register online. “Reading poetry is an adventure in renewal, a creative act, a perpetual beginning, a rebirth of wonder,” says the poet Edward Hirsch. Poems require different reading strategies than other kinds of writing. In this short course, we’ll ask not what poems mean, but how they mean, as that common dictum prescribes. We’ll explore the concept of “slow reading” and consider its power in an increasingly fast-paced world. This reading course is suited for non-writers and writers alike. Anyone with a genuine interest in poetry is encouraged to participate.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR WRITERSPUBLICATION & PRODUCTION OPPORTUNITIESWriters' Showcase at 360 North, KTOO, Juneau is accepting submissions for their March show. The theme is Journeys. Deadline is February 27.

Savor the Rising Words:  Poetry Broadside Invitational in honor of National Poetry Month, April 2015. Submit poetry broadsides for display at Great Harvest Bread Co. throughout the month of April 2015 in honor of National Poetry Month. Featured poets will be encouraged to read their works during a public event at the bakery at a date and time to be determined. Broadsides in the exhibit will be available for sale and proceeds will be donated to 49 Writers; those not sold will be retained by 49 Writers for future displays or events. Submission deadline: March 20. Click here for full details.

Cirque was founded to give writers (and artists) of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest more places to publish their work – and as a vehicle to bring the best writing of the region to the world. The next Cirque deadline is March 21st (the equinox). The submission address is cirque.submits at

Fairbanks Drama Association and The Looking Glass Group Theatre invite Alaskan residents to send their best 10-minute plays to be considered for the 15th Annual 8X10 Festival of New Alaskan Plays. Eight ten-minute plays will be given rehearsed staged readings at the Festival, which will be held April 24 & 25, 2015, at FDA's Hap Ryder Riverfront Theater in Fairbanks. Submission deadline: March 15.
CONTESTS & GRANTS2015 Public Invitation for a Poem in Place: For the third and final project year, Poems in Place 2015 seeks one poem to place in Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park in Kodiak, and one poem forCaines Head State Recreation Area in Seward. Submissions accepted Feb. 1 - April 1.
It’s Always Something Teen Writing Contest deadline is March 20, 2015. More information on the contest and the submission form at

CONFERENCES, RETREATS & RESIDENCIESKachemak Bay Writers' Conference, Homer, AK, June 12-16, 2015: keynote speaker is Andre Dubus III, and there are a host of amazing writers on the faculty this year (as there are every year). This year's post-conference workshop at Tutka Bay Lodge, Finding the Geography of Our Work, will be led by 2014 Kingsley Tufts Award winner Afaa Weaver, June 16-18.
Wrangell Mountain Meg Hunt Residency Program Application Deadline: March 5, 2015
Artists and writers of all genres and at all stages in their career are encouraged to apply for one of several two-week residencies. Selections will be made through a competitive admissions process. They encourage emerging and mid-level career voices as well as mature professionals. Selected artists will receive room and board for their entire stay in exchange for community outreach or the donation of artwork as a result of the residency. During the residency, the artist will be asked to share their experience with the public by demonstration, talk, or other means.

Summer Residency 0pportunity for young writers in Sitka – application deadline March 29, 2015  The Sitka Fellows Program, now in its fourth year provides a fully-funded, seven-week residency at the Sheldon Jackson campus for anyone under the age of 30. Past participants have included social entrepreneurs, theoretical physicists, as well as musicians, poets, cartographers, and cartoonists. The residency includes six fellows and a facilitator. The program wants visionaries of all stripes: frame-busting, independent thinkers who wish to immerse themselves in their work alongside smart, enthusiastic young people from radically different backgrounds. It's seven weeks of time and space, in Sitka, Alaska of all beautiful places, to dedicate yourself to a project — any project — that will change the world in ways big, small, or subtle.

North Words Writers Symposium, May 27-30, Skagway. Keynote speaker is Mary Roach, plus a bevvy of Alaska's best authors. North Words Symposium offers a unique opportunity for writers to nurture interrelationships with other writers and thinkers in a spectacular place. They aspire to build upon a tradition of literature that reflects language and life on the frontier.

Ketchikan Teaching Artist Academy:The Ketchikan Area Arts & Humanities Council is offering a Teaching Artist Academy via the OWL Network. Sessions will be held on Saturday, March 7th from 10am to 6pm at OWL sites in Ketchikan, Craig, Thorne Bay, Petersburg, Wrangell, Cordova, Metlakatla and Hollis. This workshop is meant to support the professional development of currently working teaching artists, and professional artists exploring the addition of teaching artist work to their art practices. For complete information, and registration, visit the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council website at If you have any questions about the Teaching Artist Academy or the Artist in the Schools program, contact Christa Bruce, Education Director atchristab (at) or 907.225.2211.

Win $500 to Attend a Writer's Conference, Festival, Center, Retreat, or Residency
AWP offers three scholarships of $500 each to emerging writers who wish to attend a writers' conference, center, retreat, festival, or residency. Enter via Submittable by March 30, 2015 deadline.

Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference: Minneapolis, April 8-11. Imagine 12,000 writers in one place!

The Muse & the Marketplace 2015 May 1st - 3rd, 2015, sponsored by Grubstreet in Boston.

Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference, June 20-26, 2015. Scholarship deadline: March 15. 
Categories: Arts & Culture

Free Books: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

49 Writers - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 5:00am
A scam: don't fall for it!

Let’s keep this simple.
Everyone likes to get things for free. (Whether they value them is another matter; mostly, they don’t.)
Say you want free books. There are good ways to get them. Libraries, for certain. If they don’t have the book you’re looking for, ask them to order it.
If you like e-books, there are thousands and thousands of free ones available through legitimate online vendors (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.). True, a lot of them aren’t that great, but if you search, you’ll find some gems, one being the Alaska Sampler that David Marusek and I put out each year. There are also legitimate e-newsletters like BookBub that will match your reading interests with time-sensitive offers for free and discounted books.
If you’re a book blogger and/or reviewer, you can be swimming in free books, via NetGalley and/or having a following that will attract the attention of authors and publicists.
Another great way to get free books is to follow an author via her website or on Goodreads. Authors and publishers often arrange giveaways—drawings for free books. And authors sometimes seek out beta readers and early reviewers, with whom they share e-books for free. Authors who have control of their book pricing will generally be happy to let you know about sales and such—a newsletter or email alert function on the author’s website will keep you in the know.
The bad way to get free books is piracy. It used to be that authors worried (if they worried at all) about plagiarism. Now, pirates steal whole books, making money either directly or indirectly off the backs of authors who work hard and earn little, statistically speaking.
Piracy of intellectual property, like everything else in the economic realm, is fundamentally about value.
A Starbucks latte has value.
A McDonald’s Big Mac meal has value.
A novel into which I poured my soul—not to mention three years of my life—has value.
I know, we all make our choices. All I’m saying is that when you consider all the legitimate ways to get a book for free, there’s no reason to pirate it, and there are ample reasons not to.
Which brings me to the ugly. A lot of those free book download sites are straight-up scams, using books as bait to lure in the unsuspecting. They post fake conversations about the books, including review language they lift from legitimate sites and even­—get this—fake “good cop” admonitions against pirating, along with “bad cops” who offer links to the pirating sites.
When you click through to the “free download” button, you’ll be asked to input your credit card information, so the scammers will have it “on file,” in case you want to buy a book later.
Guess what’s next? Fraudulent credit card charges. Nasty malware installed from what you thought was a legitimate website. (The malware is as clever as the fake discussion boards about the book: it tries the password out on your email account and uses it to send emails to your contacts, ostensibly from you, encouraging your friend to click on the link that will load malware onto his or her device.)
Don’t risk it. Get your books the way everyone else does. Authors rarely get rich. But your small contribution to our efforts is much appreciated!

Mark your calendars: Deb has a legitimate free book offer coming up. On Feb. 26 and 27, the e-book version of What Every Author Should Know will be available for free through Amazon. Thanks to author David Marusek for research and links for this post. 
Categories: Arts & Culture

Teresa Sundmark: Mushrooms, Mycelium and Writing

49 Writers - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 5:30am

Something about this winter, with its warmer than average temperatures and its lack of snow, has me thinking about gardening earlier than usual. Maybe it’s because the raised garden beds in my back yard are not hidden from sight, which typically allows me to stop thinking about them for several months at a time. In any case, while I’m waiting for the ground to thaw, I’m perusing seed catalogs and planning more projects than I’ll ever realistically have time for—that, and I’m educating myself about different aspects of gardening and composting and soil maintenance.  Recently in my reading I came across an article by Kenneth Miller from the July/August 2013 issue of Discover magazine called, “How Mushrooms Can Save the World.” 
I’ve spent a lifetime enjoying mushrooms—looking at them, eating them, searching for them—without knowing much about them. To me, it always seemed as if they just appeared out of nowhere. Needless to say, the article was enlightening and made me aware of my ignorance on the subject of mushrooms, and like most everything I come across, reading the article got me thinking about writing.  
Writing for me has always been about connecting. I don’t write in order to publish, I write in order to connect with other people. This isn’t to say that I don’t want to publish, it’s just that it isn’t the thing that motivates me. If publishing can be a byproduct of me writing something that means something to another person, then that’s just an added bonus. 
According to the article, “when you look at a mushroom, what you’re seeing is a fungus’s fruit. It emerges from a mass of fibrous tissue known as mycelium, which penetrates whatever material the mushroom is growing on. To the naked eye, mycelium resembles cottony fluff or cobwebs. Viewed through an electron microscope, however, it’s an intricate weave of branching, threadlike membranes whose structure resembles a network of brain cells.”  
In other words, those mushrooms don’t just appear out of nowhere. They are the result of a larger network of mycelium that mostly goes unnoticed.  
And I started to wonder, how much of a writing life is the stuff other than the fruit that becomes a published work? Most of it, actually.  Here’s just a sampling of the things we do that encourage the finished poems, stories, or books to emerge:  
·         We come here, to the 49 Writers blog for a bit of inspiration or to see what literary or book-related events are happening in our community.·         We read articles having to do with books, authors, or subjects we’ve been thinking of writing about.·         We meet with writer friends to offer support, to discuss projects, or to vent our frustrations.·         We think non-stop about connecting ideas, and how those connections could be relevant to the writing project that we are either a) currently working on, b) setting aside for a while, or c) just thinking of for the first time.·         We read actual novels, stories, essays, memoirs, poems or plays.·         We reread the work we find meaningful.·         We write critical essays that make us unfold and examine different aspects of writing.·         Through social media we see what our writer acquaintances are up to. We celebrate their successes, (maybe even envy them a little) and we feel their pain if they’ve been dealt a literary blow.·         We submit that short story, essay or poem that we think is ready.·         We rewrite that short story, essay or poem that just isn’t getting published. ·         We post something online that has to do with writing.·         We brainstorm.·         We imagine winning a Pulitzer Prize.·         We fantasize about our favorite author telling us that they love our work. ·         We pause and reflect on some beautiful thing we’ve read or seen or experienced.·         We let ourselves know darkness and sorrow.·         We attend workshops, classes, readings, and conferences.·         We buy books to support writers we admire, even when we can’t afford them.·         We see metaphors and similes in nearly everything. (writing = fungus)·         We go back to school.·         We teach.·         We create space for ourselves, both physically and psychologically.·         We participate in writers’ groups.·         We ask questions—maybe out loud, or maybe to ourselves—in order to better understand a situation or a person.·         On a good day, we may actually write something.  
Essentially, writing, when taken seriously, becomes a part of who we are, and with a few changes in the quotation about mushrooms and mycelium from above, we can see that published work—the product of our labor—comes into being as a result of connections. 
“When you look at a beautiful piece of writing, what you’re seeing is the fruit of a deliberate life. It emerges from an interconnected mass of previously written works, friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, discipline, education, critical thinking, generosity, imagination, experience and desire.  These things penetrate every aspect of the writer’s life. To the naked eye, much of what a writer does resembles cottony fluff or cobwebs. Viewed more closely, however, it’s an intricate weave of a branching, threadlike web whose structure gives the writer the support needed in order to thrive.” 
Writing means different things to different people. For some, it’s about the process. For others, it’s about the final product. Either way though, I’d argue that those delectable morsels of writing that emerge from time to time are the product of something much larger and more complicated than we realize. Powerful writing—writing that connects—doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. 
Teresa Sundmark lives in Homer, Alaska. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UAA. Her work has been featured in Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim and is forthcoming in Stoneboat Journal. She blogs intermittently at
Categories: Arts & Culture

Sean Hill: Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference

49 Writers - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 5:00am
The Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference[1]at Bemidji State University is back for its third year after a four-year hiatus. On the BSU campus on the shores of Lake Bemidji—a small university on a big lake in a small town in northern Minnesota—the perfect place to write and be in the company of others committed to learning and teaching the craft of writing and where you’re likely to be awakened by the haunting call of a loon or inspired by the grace of a bald eagle as well as by our great faculty.

This summer the conference will be held from June 20th to June 26th. This week-long writers’ conference offers participants intimate writing workshops and an evening reading series[2]. Established in 2003, the Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference provides a high quality literary experience for the local and state communities and attracts participants from around the nation. The conference has always brought in well-published writers who are also excellent teachers to lead the intensive workshops, which are limited to 13 participants in order to create intimate learning communities for the writers.

The faculty is there to share their knowledge and experience of the writing life with their workshops and with the whole conference in our craft talk series. We also invite a Distinguished Visiting Writer to speak on the art and craft of writing and share what he or she has learned over the years. They have included the major American poet Sharon Olds, the acclaimed fiction writer, Pam Houston, and the recent U.S. Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, during the year in which she won the Pulitzer Prize. Our teaching faculty has included NEA fellows and winners of major awards including the National Book Award.  

For those who want the conference experience but don’t want to take part in a workshop, we are offering an auditor’s track that includes access to the daily craft talks, afternoon events, evening readings, and the conference meals. This option is for writers at any stage of development who work hard at their writing and want to better understand the creative act. Auditors will be exposed to and benefit from the knowledge and experience our teaching artists share in their morning craft talks and be moved by their work at the evening readings. At $125 plus $28 per night for convenient newly-remodeled campus housing, the auditor’s track provides an incredibly affordable writer’s retreat. 
Following in our tradition of literary excellence, our Distinguished Visiting Writer is acclaimed poet, memoirist, and teacher Mark Doty. Doty has published over a dozen books of poetry and nonfiction. Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems won the National Book Award. His memoir Dog Years became a New York Times bestseller. Doty’s poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The London Review of Books, Ploughshares, Poetry, The New Yorker, and The Norton Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. His honors include the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Whiting Writers Award, two Lambda Literary Awards, and he is the only American poet to receive the T.S. Eliot Prize in the U.K. Doty lives in New York and is Professor/Writer in Residence at Rutgers University. 
And our teaching-writers are equally impressive. The poet, Aimee Nezhukumatathil will return this summer to lead our poetry workshop. Aimee is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Lucky Fish, winner of the gold medal in Poetry from the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize for Independent Books. Her recent honors include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Pushcart Prize.  
The novelist Tayari Jones will lead the fiction workshop. Jones is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and a winner of the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction. She has written for McSweeney’s, The New York Times, and the Believer. Her previous novels include Leaving Atlantaand The Untelling, winner of the Lillian C. Smith award. Her third novel, Silver Sparrow, was included in O Magazine’s Favorite Things for 2011 and on several prestigious Best Books of 2011 lists including Slate’s and Salon’s. Jones holds degrees from Spelman College, Arizona State University, and the University of Iowa.   
This year we are offering a Young Adult fiction workshop led by Matt de la Peña. He’s the author of five critically-acclaimed young adult novels—Ball Don’t Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here, I Will Save You and The Living—as well as the award-winning picture book A Nation’s Hope: The story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis. de la Peña’s second picture book, Last Stop on Market Street, was recently released by Penguin, and his sixth YA novel, The Hunted (a sequel to The Living), will be released by Delacorte. He received his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. de la Peña teaches creative writing and visits high schools and colleges throughout the country. 
One of our two creative nonfiction workshops will be led by David Gessner, author of nine books, including the forthcoming All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West, and The Tarball Chronicles, which won the 2012 Reed Award for Best Book on the Southern Environment. He has published essays in many magazines, including Outside magazine and the New York Times Magazine, and has won the John Burroughs Award for Best Nature Essay. Gessner taught Environmental Writing as a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer at Harvard, and founded the award-winning literary journal of place, Ecotone
The other creative nonfiction workshop will be led by our other returning faculty, Joni Tevis. A former Edelstein-Keller Discovery Fellowat the University of Minnesota, Tevis teaches literature and creative writing at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. Tevis is the well-published author of a wonder-filled book of essays, The Wet Collection. She also has a second collection of nonfiction about ghost towns, tourist traps, and atomic dread, The World is on Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse, due out this spring. Both are from Milkweed Editions.  
The Conference Fee for workshop participants is $545 before April 15, 2015 and $595 after, and that includes a daily workshop limited to 13 writers, daily craft talks, publishing and editor Q&As, afternoon events, and five conference meals. And, as mentioned above, there is an Auditor Option available for $125 that includes all conference amenities and access to events offered during the week, but does not include participation in a workshop. $300 scholarships will be awarded toward the conference fee. Scholarship awards in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction are based on need and literary merit and intended to lower financial barriers for writers. There is also a scholarship for Minnesota residents. Apply at by March 15, 2015. For workshop descriptions, a schedule, online application, and more information please visit The deadline for applying for the conference is May 1.  
Here’s a video clip of the Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference from LakelandPTV’s Common Ground. 
Check out Mark Doty reading “A Display of Mackerels” for the PBS NewsHour! 
Listen to Aimee Nezhukumatathil's poems "Penguin Valentine"! 
Check out this excerpt from Silver Sparrow the latest book by Tayari Jones! 
Listen to this interview Matt de la Peña with on NPR! 
Check out David Gessner talking about his book My Green Manifesto! 
Listen to this interview of Joni Tevis up at Orion!

[1] Sponsored by the English Department at Bemidji State University in collaboration with BSU’s Center for Extended Learning and a grant from the Region 2 Arts Council and generous donors.  [2]The readings are free and open to the public.  
Categories: Arts & Culture

Rachel Weaver: Am I Ever Going to Finish Writing This Book?

49 Writers - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 5:00am

When I first started writing a novel, I was living year round in Petersburg, AK. I was a scientist who had read a lot of books and had always, secretly wanted to write one. I did not think of myself as a writer, but had a lot of time on my hands in the winter (this was pre-husband and pre-twin boys) and thought I’d give it a whirl. I got addicted, fast. It was so fun to make stuff up. I loved creating characters, putting them in all sorts of situations and imagining what would happen. I loved watching the landscape of Alaska come alive on the page. I wrote all the time. With every fifty pages completed on my computer, I would start the generator to print them out, add them to the pile and stare at how big the stack of papers was getting to be. One afternoon, at the Harbor Bar, I sat across from my friend and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with all these people who take ten years to finish a book, I’m going to be done in six months.” Wrong! Turns out, what I finished in six months was a really reallyrough first draft. But I didn’t know that then. I had an impressive stack of papers, with a good looking cover page and lots of things happened between page 1 and page 342. So, imagining I had finished one book, I naturally started another. At some point the following fall after the busy summer season, it dawned on me that maybe the book I had busted out in six months needed a second go-through, maybe the plot wasn’t quite as tight as it had seemed. As I read through, lots of things nagged at me as a reader. I could identify what wasn’t quite lining up right, but I didn’t know how to dissect those things to the point of figuring out how to fix them. This is actually the point at which I started to become a writer. Once I slowed down, once I was willing to pull apart what I had and try to puzzle my way more toward the truth of the action, the subtle intricacies of the plot; that’s when I started to learn. This is also when I started to wonder about the whole book writing thing. Was I going to drive myself crazy? If it took me a whole week to figure out the first five pages, was I going to lose my mind by page 200? What I have come to realize is that it’s actually the process of rewriting that makes you a writer.  There is a certain level of tenacity, a dedication to the long process of improving your craft that gets you across the finish line. Almost ten years to the day I made that statement in the Harbor Bar, that novel was published. I wrote it somewhere between twenty and twenty-five times. For me, this was the process of learning how to write a book, how to watch the world as a writer, and ultimately how to trust myself despite lots of rejection, lots of disappointing realizations along the way that I still had a long ways to go and lots of moments of pure elation when all the pieces of a scene or chapter fell into place. I was still addicted, I still loved it, even though in those ten years, I swung violently between feeling 100% committed to the writing path and thinking I should burn the book in the backyard, become a banker and wear nice shoes.I don’t have nice shoes, I have practical shoes and a book that to me represents the fact that I didn’t give up despite a fair amount of evidence that I probably should have. So, the answer is yes, you are going to finish that book. As long as you keep your head down and continually rededicate yourself to improving your craft. I believe that you do not just write a book. You work at a book, you let it change you as you change it, you both grow together and in the end you hold that bound copy in your hands and you realize that it represents so much more of you than you could ever explain. Rachel Weaver is the author of the novel Point of Direction, named to Oprah Magazine’s May 2014 Top Ten Titles to Pick Up Now and described by NPR’s All Things Considered as the type of book that “pulls you in”. Rachel is on the fiction faculty at Regis University’s low residency MFA program. She will be teaching a workshop entitled “Writing the Three Dimensional Novel or Memoir”for 49 Writers in Anchorage on February 28th and in Juneau on March 2nd and 3rd. 
Categories: Arts & Culture

Poems in Place event

What Turtle Blood Tastes Like - Fri, 02/20/2015 - 12:39pm

Hey folks, I’m co-hosting a poetry event next Tuesday to help drum up interest during this year’s call for submissions. Checkout out the Poems in Place Project and I hope you’ll join Emily and I for a night of poetry.

Poems in Place
February 24, 2015 – 06:30
A Conversation Between Alaskan Landscapes and Poetry hosted by Emily Wall and Jonas Lamb. Readers and writers of poetry! Please come to the library to help us discover nominees for this year’s Poems in Place project. The Poems in Place project places poems by Alaskan writers in outdoors in two of Alaska’s State parks each year. To begin, Emily Wall will present images and background about this year’s two Alaskan State Parks: Caines Head State Recreation Area and Fort Abercrombie State Historic Park. Then Jonas and Emily will guide participants through a structured poetic response exploring the relationship between place and poem. Participants will have an opportunity to read these or other poems. You’re welcome to bring your books to share.

Filed under: community, events, Poetry
Categories: Arts & Culture

Sandra Kleven: Embracing Icons

49 Writers - Thu, 02/19/2015 - 5:00am
Artwork by Sandra Kleven
One may feel an inclination to adore famous poets. To be impressed beyond ease of expression. To see the greatest of poets as nearly holy, and the greatest poems as personal touchstones.
“You do not have to be good…” Mary Oliver  
“This is the way the world ends…” T. S. Eliot
“And the lily, how passionately it needs some wild darling!” Jalaluddin Rumi
“Do not go gentle…” Dylan Thomas
“Whose woods these are…” Robert Frost
“I have seen the best minds…” Allen Ginsberg
“The whiskey on your breath…” Theodore Roethke
Six or eight words conjure up an entire poem. These lines and those who made them are so ensconced in the literary liturgy as to seem iconic. And the poets, a lively crew in life, seem rigid as statues—as if we must only circle, genuflect, and quote.
Standoffishness exacts a price. In keeping these luminaries at arm’s length, we miss entering, engaging, resurrecting. When we dare to get closer, the quality of the contact changes and those we have loved from afar enter our homes, hearts, and poetry.
As the editor of Cirque, I appreciate poems that draw on famous poets. In recent issues, Jim Hanlen writes about the chickens of William Carlos Williams and Suzi Gregg Fowler writes of “receiving” a poem from Alaska’s Poet Laureate, Nora Dauenhauer. The poem concludes, “It is not a poetry race. It is a poetry taste.”
Tom Sexton, 1995 Alaska Poet Laureate, has published a collection relating to Chinese poets, I Think Again of Those Ancient Chinese Poets. John Morgan pays homage to Kabir in his latest book, River of Light: Fishing with Kabir.
American poets of the last fifty-plus years were friends, rivals, and lovers. But most notably, they knew each other. They helped and influenced each other. These generalities hold solidly as one reads biography, letters, and collected prose. When we write in homage, argument, or imitation of great poets, we gradually join the circle of friends. 
 “Immature poets imitate. Mature poets steal.” T. S. Eliot  
I first pulled poet-from-shelf with some diffidence, certain caution, when I wrote a line that drew from Yeats, “The Second Coming.” My line was “Who comes around uninvited to be born/ of what careless father gone?” I pondered what I had done, feeling reluctant and imitative. But I left the line in place.
Later, I wrote a quatrain on Plath:
Sylvia reads “Daddy” on YouTube.
At least I think it’s her.
It certainly sound like Sylvia would
precise, embittered and nice.

I felt like a trespasser, but grew bold. Theodore Roethke entered my work.   
I blundered into Roethke’s world in part because of his connection to my birthplace, Seattle.  He wrote that the great dead poets would help a writer, adding that “The dead like having their pictures painted.” Roethke died in 1963.  
So, I called on Roethke. In a poem, I imagined myself, a child, walking a Puget Sound beach with him. My poem announced that his terminology marked him as an outsider. “We don’t speak of stones or the sea, in Western Washington. We use other words in place of these found out in your poetry.”
Out of my imaginary association with Roethke, I came to meet three of his former students. All three were persuaded to submit work to Cirque.  
I’d become comfortable but pushed into discomfort again when I confronted Sylvia Plath in a poem both harsh and mocking.  
Dark with Sylvia
Sylvia gassed herself to death in February of 1963. I was reading her body of work when my brother committed suicide (2008). Even before my personal tragedy, I had come to know of her baby boy in Plath biographies and in her poem “Nick Jumps Over the Candlestick,” which ends:
You are the one/ Solid the spaces lean on, envious./ You are the baby in the barn.
My brother’s suicide was still on my mind when, six months later, word came that Plath’s son, Nicholas Hughes, had hanged himself in Fairbanks, Alaska. I saw how a legacy of suicide can be left when a family member dies this way. I blamed Sylvia for the death of her son and I put my accusation into a poem. The poem mocked her style.
I was throwing stones at a monument. In begins, “Sylvia, your son has done. Has done. Has done. A son undone.” I thought it was a good poem. Stone Boatin Wisconsin accepted it and nominated the poem for a Push Cart prize. I offer this last not to brag but in support of a cause. I believe it is good to enter these worlds. It is rich. It might be ennobling in a sense that is hard to describe.
The path of adulation is not for me. But I would enter the social circle of friends, rivals, lovers, mentors. Worlds open, I promise you this, and your work as a writer/poet changes through engagement, argument, critique, and acts of love.
Poets congregate to rise on the same tide.
Cirque editor Sandra Kleven is a poet and essayist. Her writing has appeared in AQR, Oklahoma Review, Topic, Praxilla, Stoneboat, f-zine and the UAP anthology, Cold Flashes. Kleven is the author of four books, most recently, Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing (VP&D Publishing House). She holds an MSW degree as well as an MFA in Creative Writing.
Kleven will teach a six-session 49 Writers course, Joining the Conversation: Engaging with Poets Past, on Thursdays, beginning March 6, from 6 – 8 PM. Students will consider the lineage of poets and poems and will shape new writing in ways that engage with the "great" poets of history via: homage, argument, variation on theme, call-response (and more) with the resulting work, clearly braided into the larger tradition. Participants will help select the "famous" poets to be examined. Through this process the poets of history will be transformed into literary friends – or foes.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Teresa Sundmark: Tricky Writing

49 Writers - Wed, 02/18/2015 - 5:00am

I sometimes have a hard time sitting down to write, but I’ve found a few tricks to help get me going.
My first trick is taking notes.
When I sit down to write I worry about sounding good for an audience. You know, the audience. The people who will read my words and judge whether or not I’m making any sense or sounding smart or saying anything remotely interesting.
But when I’m just taking notes, I am not worried about my audience. Subsequently, anything interesting I have to say first shows up in my notes.
Note taking is where I ask questions and search for answers. It’s where I’m honest. Usually when I’m honest, I realize that my initial thoughts are just precursors to bigger, more compelling ideas that are lurking on the other side of the topic I had set out to write about.
Recently I sat down to write about old time music—playing it, the culture of it, the festivals I’ve attended and the people I’ve met along the way. I didn’t know where to start, so I began by taking notes. I asked questions: How did learning to play fiddle change me? What do I find so appealing about the music and everything that goes along with it? What are my favorite tunes, and why are they my favorites? All the notes I took in my attempt to answer those questions led me to my religious upbringing—more specifically to Pentecostalism.
I didn’t see that coming, but now more intriguing questions are surfacing. There is more depth, more potential to my work than what I’d anticipated.
Note taking allows me to write informally alongside a subject. It allows for unexpected diversions. I’m reminded of the times I needed to have a serious conversation with one or the other of my teenaged children. Sitting them down at the kitchen table to talk about a specific issue usually ended in either a yelling match or a lot of eye rolling and frustration. Our discussions were always more productive in a less formal setting. Driving was good, so was walking. Something about spending time alongside each other was less threatening than facing each other head on, and more often than not I was surprised at how open they were to talking when they didn’t have to look me in the eye.  
It’s true that note taking isn’t separate from writing, that in fact it’s just a part of the process. Calling it something other than writing is just part of the game I play to get myself to put words on a page. But it works.
What other games do I play in order to get work done? I ground myself in the present moment.
As I’m writing this, my two black lab/muts are running around the house tackling each other. There is a fire in the woodstove that’s in danger of going out and feeding it is going to require heading out to the woodshed and splitting a few rounds. I have a down blanket on my lap, though, so I can put off the trip outside for a little while longer. The low-angle, February sun is streaming through my window and I’m looking out at Kachemak Bay. The water is choppy but the sky is blue and clear. The only thing resembling a cloud is the snow blowing sideways off of Sadie Peak.
Looking at this view, I think about my neighbor whose memorial service I’m going to attend this afternoon. He and his wife homesteaded this piece of property that my husband and I have called home for the past eighteen years. His view for over fifty years was this same view that I’m enjoying right now. When I think about it though, the view is never the same from one moment to the next. It’s why I keep looking and taking photos and more photos. Unlike the people who live here, the view never gets old.
Writing is a little like my view that way, I approach it from a similar angle almost every time I sit down, but it surprises me with where it leads. It helps me untangle ideas. It unleashes stories I didn’t know were harbored inside me. It sparks my memory.
Today for example, I thought I was going to write about the tricks I use to get my writing started, but all of these things—the way fiddle music connects me to spirit, the way one day teenagers are rolling their eyes at you and the next day they’re gone, the way hardy homesteaders grow frail over time—these beautiful and heartbreaking bits of life bubbled up from somewhere.

Teresa Sundmark lives in Homer, Alaska. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UAA. Her work has been featured in Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim and is forthcoming in Stoneboat Journal. She blogs intermittently at

Categories: Arts & Culture

State Library in Juneau Features Artwork of Hannah Lindoff’s Book

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Wed, 02/04/2015 - 2:50pm

The Alaska State Library will exhibit artwork from the book Mary’s Wild Winter Feast by Hannah Lindoff. Come feast your eyes on a selection of the illustrations, a collaboration between Tlingit collage artist Clarissa Rizal and digital artist Nobu Koch. They feature Mary’s adventures hunting, fishing, and foraging with her family in southeast Alaska. This exhibit is made possible by the University of Alaska Press and will be on display through March 27. First Friday opening reception will be on February 6 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Alaska State Library on the 8th floor of the State Office Building. For more information, contact Claire Imamura at (907) 465-2458or <> .

See it here:

Categories: Arts & Culture

Birthday Bio

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Tue, 02/03/2015 - 5:54am

Clarissa and her children, Ursala, Lily and Kahlil – July 2011

A couple of weeks ago, one of my apprentices asked me if I would write a bio of myself that explained when I began to do my art and why.  She said she had to choose someone who had influenced her life to become an artist; she choose me.  This was an assignment she needed to present at her art class.  My initial response was “Gee, I inspired her to become an artist?  But I don’t want to write about me, it is so boring to go back that far and talk about who, what where when and why…”  However, I gave her my word that I would do this for her that night.  So, I “set the stage” with low lighting and a cup of tea; I do this whenever I have to write about my personal life to help me focus with very little struggle – then with very little editing, the words just flowed from my head down through to the keyboard onto the computer screen.  Here’s what came…

19 January 2015

Sitting in the direct heat of the fake firelight of the electric Amish heater in my studio, always bundled in my sheepskin coat, sheepskin boots and hat because the heating device is not large enough to heat this one room where I work and sleep, I am never quite warm in Winter, though it’s better than being outside right now with 0 degree starlit snow. I reflect upon my life as an artist and wonder where it all started and if living the life of a full-time artist, especially now in a place without running water, without sewer, and without sufficient heat, was and continues to be, worth it.

No matter what age, for the past 59 years, I’ve always been a child of creativity, with a drive that is endless. I exist on 6 hours sleep a night; from the time my eyes are awakened by the early dawn until I suddenly stagger to my bed 18 hours later; like I am going-going-going, then gone! It’s only in the past couple of years that I realized that not everyone is like this; where have I been?

38 years ago today, my first child Kahlil was born, named after Kahlil Gibran who wrote many inspiring books including The Prophet, Spirits Rebellious, and my favorite The Broken Wings.  Spiritually-inclined at a very young age, anything written about Christ had to be read; any paintings, prints and photos of Jesus had to be studied, so natural it was to read all of Gibran’s works when I was a young adult. And even though in the western way of living having a child at 20 was considered young, it was natural for me to think it normal because our Tlingit culture had the wisdom to know children are a gift of God.

My parents guided me into the way they were conditioned to get a “real job” to secure a pension plan to retire in 40 years.  This worked for a little while.  From the age of 14 to 20 I had real jobs working as a librarian assistant, a home-health aid for the elderly, a clerk typist for the Governor and for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Division of Contracting, until of course Kahlil was born. Being a new mother was challenging; I was not a natural-born mother because I was such a tom-boy and it was next to impossible to stay indoors day in and day out while the baby napped, I had to keep up with the diaper changes and laundry, and he had to be nursed every 2 hours 24-7! Holy cow!

To keep my sanity I turned to gardening; it got me outdoors yet close to home! I turned to drawing, crocheting and sewing. While he took his naps, and directly after putting the entire household to bed each night, I’d stay awake ‘till at least midnight, creating; it was my therapy! During the raising of my three children, I made a living over the next decades in a variety of ways: besides designing and making Tlingit ceremonial regalia in button blanket, Chilkat and Ravenstail weavings, I was an entrepreneur before I knew what that meant.  I made hats, I sewed custom-made clothing, created costumes for local theatre companies, owned a landscape gardening company, and was co-owner of an online newspaper.  In the 70s and early 80s, I took up learning our traditional arts from some of the best artists of their time: carving, regalia-making, traditional song and dance, metal-smithing, basketry, Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving. Just before my children were grown up and gone I had created a name for myself as one of the few, if not the only, Tlingit women who has been a full-time artist working in all of the above mediums for nearly 40 years, all in the name of keeping my sanity and being a stay-at-home-self-employed-mother because I did what my mother recommended I do: stay home with my children.

In a few years I will be 65; do I see myself retiring soon? No way. I have no pension plan; I have no savings; and I surely do not have an inheritance.   I cannot afford to retire. And what would I retire to!? Would I retire to taking vacations? What for?…vacations are boring; I don’t want to relax – relaxing is a lot of work! Would I retire to volunteering at something?   I been there done that volunteering all my life with the house concerts I used to produce in my own home; with the children’s theatre I used to co-produce; with the art shows and classes I used to teach, just to name a few.   Would I retire to what most people retire to? Watching TV from the couch. What for? Is that really fun, is it productive, is it creative, does it do anyone any good? The only results I see from watching TV is weight gain—too much potato chips!

Would I retire to what some of us retire to? Art and music.

Hello? I am already there; I have been creating art and playing music all my adult life. Does this mean I’ve been retired all my life?   Hmmm…an interesting perspective.

It looks like I will continue doing what I have been doing for almost 40 years.  Why change now?  I’m in the groove.

My children now have families of their own. Each of my children and their spouses are self-employed artists. I have watched them struggle with making ends meet like the way their father and I made ends meet never knowing where our next paycheck would come from and if next month’s bills would get paid. I watch them live like I have, not afford brand new cars, not take any vacations, not have the latest styles of clothing, all the while living with tension about the ability to keep a roof over their heads, mouths fed, and clothing clean. However, there’s a sense of pride and awe that I feel when I see the fact that they stay at home with their children, making wholesome meals from scratch, tending to a flourishing garden, doing their “art” and their little kids “working” right alongside them: happy. These are values I did not realize were taught to them by my own example, someone who has passionate creativity, a drive that has always been driven, at the edge.

Kahlil is a professional film-maker/director who also teaches film a couple of days a week at the Institute of American Indian Arts; his wife Miki is a counselor at the Santa Fe Arts Academy; their 7-year-old Violet enjoys chess tournaments, sewing, ice-skating, gymnastics and basketball. Lily is an award-winning, professional storyteller/actress and also a Ravenstail/Chilkat weaver and teacher; her husband Ishmael is also a professional storyteller/actor, excellent writer who recently published his first book of poetry. They have four children who are being home-schooled. Ursala is an oil painter, block-print maker, graphic artist/web designer, and is president of a local Charter school she is starting; her husband Chris is a lead singer/songwriter in his band, a sculptor and a house painter.  Their two daughters are obviously following their footsteps!  My children and grandchildren live fully.

To my best of my ability, I live a life of integrity. I keep watch of what I do to see what I believe. My offspring and my work is love made visible. I follow my heart because my heart follows the source of creativity that inspires me and continues to drive me. I am old enough to look back upon my life and enjoy it a second time around. All my relations, my parents, my children and their children are proof of the legacy that I co-created and will leave. And when I leave, my conscious will be clear and free, knowing all that I loved and lived, was worth it.

Categories: Arts & Culture

Have You Seen The “Chilkat Mini-Coopers?”

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Sun, 02/01/2015 - 10:05pm

Hand-painted mini-coops in Chilkat yellow and Indian red! by Clarissa Rizal

Let’s go for a quick road-trip in one of these “Chilkat Mobiles” zipping through the Redwood Forests and out across Canyonlands and Arches National Monuments sliding into Sedona across the Mohave dessert and up towards the Rocky Mountains!  Yep, zippidity do dah at your fingertips in the miniatures of miniatures!

Categories: Arts & Culture

Clarissa’s Tentative Schedule for the Arts 2015

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Fri, 01/30/2015 - 8:58pm

“Chilkat Child” headdress and collar – trimmed with sea otter fur and 22. bullet shells – designed and handwoven by Clarissa Rizal

I am currently gearing up for a full year of travel to art shows, cultural center openings, weddings and of course visiting my kids and grandkids along the way!  Here’s my 2015 schedule:

1).  Heard Museum Indian Art Market and Fair, Phoenix, AZ – March 5-8th – Booth #D45

2).  Catherine and Dylan’s Wedding, Austin, TX – April 18th

3).  Grand Opening of Soboleff Cultural Center, Juneau, AK – May 15

4).  Eiteljorg Indian Art Market and Fair, Indianapolis, IN, June 27-28

5).  Teslin’s “KusTeYea” Celebration, Teslin, Yukon, July 24-26

6).  Santa Fe Indian Market, Santa Fe, New Mexico, August 21-23

7). Haskell Institute Native Art Market, Lawrence, KS , September 12-13

8).  Cherokee Art Market, Tulsa, OK, October

9)  Autry Native American Art Market, Los Angeles, CA  November

10).  NMAI (National Museum of the American Indian) Holiday Art Market, NYC, December


Categories: Arts & Culture


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Slideshow | TMHS Senior Night


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