• Overcast
  • 36°
Home > Feed aggregator > Sources > 49 Writers
Syndicate content
Collaborative Reflections & Book News By and About Alaskan AuthorsAndromeda Romano-Lax
Updated: 12 hours 52 min ago

Sandra Kleven: Acts of Attention: Lancing Wounds, Treating with Inquiry’s Ointment

Wed, 12/24/2014 - 6:00am
Yup'ik dancer at the Cama-i Festival in Bethel
People with keen intelligence publish reviews of plays, books, concerts and movies. Their attention is scrupulous, their standards unwavering, as they reflect on each element of a piece: Is it art? Does the director meet the intention of the composer? Is the work derivative? Bla, bla, bla. As if this were important. It may be important.
From a recent copy of Alaska Dispatch, “Scenes go on too long and some of the dramatic notes don’t land as gracefully as they could” (Lindsey Bahr writing about Chris Rock’s new film, “Top Five”). I have walked blind in dark holes - where soft beings were crying and I don’t think any bright-body is really searching the ditches, dredging the wells – or shining lights on institutions where power collects and colludes –where power starts to stink and judgment goes unchallenged. Where (another untold story) a kid, describing a cultural myth, could be placed on anti-psychotic medications for ten years.
Systems of care, social justice in Alaska, kids drugged in psych hospitals, Alaska Native kids in foster care; cultural collisions, trouble all over rural Alaska – to this, I ask, where is the unflinching review? There are official documents of oversight, but that’s not what I am talking about. I am talking about truth-telling, whistle-blowing, and opening one’s eyes to the need for – in social work terms – reform. Service providers have professional mandates toward such adventures, toward the call. Especially needed are those who can write about it, those with the darling flare of making people read to the end.
We need to wrap some language around Alaska’s other adventure – not the skiing, hiking, fishing, sort; not the bears, not the moose, but the adventure of going out to intervene in tragedy and writing as witness.
At 300, I lost count of the number of bush flights I have taken since 1984. Once, my plane sat on the airstrip at Russian Mission at minus 40 degrees. I was the only passenger. The pilot would not let me deplane until somebody showed up with a truck. None of the trucks in the village would start because it was too cold. But this flying story beats mine: in “Wild Dogs,” (Cirque, 4.1) Gretchen Brinck, a 1967, child protection worker, flew from Bethel to Aniak to investigate the reported sexual abuse of two pre-teen girls. The community seemed aware of it, seemed to blame them as “bad” girls. The (alleged) perpetrator was a popular hunting guide. After Gretchen interviewed the girls, they got on a small plane for Bethel, where they would be safer. Once on board she discovered that the pilot was the (alleged) perpetrator. Penalties for such offenses were not so severe, then, and kids were often disbelieved. He didn’t seem scared. In any case, the nervous social worker and her passengers were delivered without incident.
We’ve published five of Gretchen Brinck’s stories in Cirque and she is working toward publishing them as a memoir.
Two essays about suicide in Alaska grew out of my struggle with that particular problem. Both were published – one in a journal out of New York in 2004 and, last spring, the other was published in Stoneboat, out of Lakeland College in Wisconsin. Little good for Alaska suicide comes when writing on the subject is being read exclusively in distant places. These pages need to be read in Alaska where the stats for all things terrible – are terrible. Insight and awareness move communities toward solutions when the boots on the ground put words on a page. I discovered that while service providers and state officials are aware of Alaska’s high village suicide rate, and city dwellers know from reading the news, but in the village, not much comes in about troubles in another village. For instance, word of a tragedy in Hooper Bay does not reach the people of the Kuskokwim villages, even when it is something as grim as a cluster of ten teen suicides over a two year period. The lack of information muffles – hobbles – what could otherwise be a concerted response from village Alaska.
Contributing to the chronic nature of bush problems is a revolving door of helpers. Successful programs are lost as each newcomer comes in with an agenda. Good ideas need to stick and be shared.
Michelle Woods runs a program in Kotzebue:
Since the Teck John Baker Suicide Prevention Program was introduced into the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, the number of student suicides in the region which includes 11 villages (Ambler, Noorvik, Buckland, Selawik, Deering, Kotzebue, Kiana, Kobuk, Noatak, Kivalina, Shungnak) has dropped to zero. Prior, there were approximately 8 student suicides a year.
Another example of good: The Aniak Dragon Slayers are a team of teenagers who provide volunteer firefighting and emergency medical services throughout Aniak, Alaska, and surrounding villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
For a hundred years or more, teachers have written memoirs and stories drawing on their tenure in bush communities. Social service and medical providers have done less of this. Practitioners write the stories in client notes that no one will read. The knowledge of providers turns into a loss of experience – at a certain cost: they are made mad and/or they are made absent.
Brandish: Calling for Papers, Calling for Story
I propose a publication tentatively called Brandish (picture the Statue of Liberty, brandishing a light). The purpose is to provide a place for the writing about what I have (in a kind of short hand) been calling the troubles of Alaska. Brandish will invite social criticism, dark truths and bright ideas, memoir, essay and poetry, visual art. It will collect some of the work already published in Cirque in order to make it accessible to those who would solve Alaska’s problems. Whether this is a single volume or a periodic publication remains to be seen. I see it not as a journal as much as a book, with added volumes published no more than annually.
Four categories will be considered:
1) Criticism. Fault finding and whistle blowing. We need some of that.  2) Story, narrative, witness. Elders have endorsed such telling, saying, It’s about time somebody said all this. Nonfiction and fiction that tells the truth.  3) Documentation of the best ideas – tested on the ground and conveyed with example and enthusiasm. 4) Historical archive to avoid the chronic reinvention of the wheel. 5) Photos and art.
Another Word for Snow
Each of you a bordered country, delicate and strangely made proud…
           Maya Angelou, On the Pulse of Morning
Those who serve as care providers, teachers, first responders, and clinicians are called to action in these times of the terrible. But we’ve been dosed with something that makes us seem important to ourselves. We do not rock our boats. We don’t lift our heads. I know this from being part of it. In a poem, “Requiem for the Kuskokwim,” I mock my own sense of self-importance. I almost grieve that I skip across the coals where others are burning. Speaking of myself, I write:  
 You walk through wild like a wraith, jingling coins, coining jingles, sure to find another word for snow.
To get this off the ground, I seek donations, volunteers, and writing. For $100 a person can be a sponsor. A rough timeline puts Brandish one year into the future. Details will be announced.
The poem below, by Paul Winkel, is the first piece accepted for Brandish.
PlentyMoss chinks the logs,
a rusting tin roof.
I knock on the rough wood door.When the door opens,
I say I’m with the Public Health Service.
We want to give you running water,
with a flush toilet and septic system.A clear eyed woman of around eighty
invites me in for coffee.She lifts the stained enamel pot
from a crackling wood stove,
pours strong black coffee
into a chipped white cup.I live here all my life, she says,
haul water, chop wood,
me and my family
always have enough to eat.She points to a bare light bulb
hanging from the low ceiling.
My cousin put in a wire from his place,
when he runs his motor, I have light.I show you something.
She takes me outside, around back.
A black plastic pipe draped over a log
gushes a steady stream of water.Two years ago, my son put in that pipe
from the pond up the hill.
Water runs all year.
Outhouse over there is all I need.I never live so easy
or have so much.
I don’t want anything
that should go to people
who need them more.We go inside,
you finish coffee,
find someone who needs these things
more than me.

Thanks, 49 Writers, Linda, Deb, and Morgan for this chance to write. And warmest wishes to all for the holidays. 
Editor of Cirque, a literary journal, Sandra Kleven is a poet, filmmaker, and essayist. She also facilitates Poetry Parley, a monthly poetry event (Hugi-Lewis Studio). Her own work has appeared in AQR, Oklahoma Review, Topic, Praxilla Stoneboat, f-zine and the UAP anthology, Cold Flashes. Two poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her work has also won notice in the UAA Creative Writing and F’Air Words contests. Kleven is the author of four books, her most recent being Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing (VP&D Publishing House). She holds an MSW degree as well as an MFA in Creative Writing and works for Alaska Native tribal organizations as a clinical social worker.  Kleven claims affinity for Alaska, where she lives with her husband, and Washington State, where she was born.  
Categories: Arts & Culture

Spotlight on Alaska Books: Solutions, by Lynne Curry, Ph.D

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 6:00am

“When you think of her, you call her the spider. If she's a he, you call him a royal pain. She or he, the person who pushes every one of your buttons, irritates you until you feel off balance or even explode. Nasty people. While nice people definitely outnumber the nastier, nearly every good-sized organization has one or two individuals who ruin their coworkers’ days. If you'd like a strategy for successfully dealing with spiders and pains without losing your positive mental attitude, train yourself to avoid the "energy match" phenomenon.   “Energy match” describes the phenomenon in which one person picks up on another person's emotions. Consider what happens to you after you spend an hour dealing with a series of frustrated, angry individuals. By the end of the hour, you probably felt frustrated yourself.” (Solutions, by Lynne Curry, Ph.D)
Many of you have read Lynne Curry’s “dear Abby of the workplace” column in the Anchorage Daily News for years. She’s recently republished, Solutions, a collection of sixty of the best of the ADN’s and the Alaska Business Monthly columns from three decades. Solutions offers real-life workplace dramas, some of which might springboard your creative instincts for characters or situations for your writing. Written by a successful management consultant and coach, Solutionsoffers you your personal workplace 411/911 written in Curry's warm, personal, enlightening and fun style. And haven’t we all experienced the Darth Vader co-worker, the Scrooge employer, and the two-faced employee?
Curry's book serves as a convenient manual in which you can look up a specific problem, and obtain professional advice on how to handle it, for a fraction of the cost of hiring your own management consultant. There is useful advice on writing, remembering names, time and stress management, career development and supervising challenging employees. Curry has a direct, easy-to-read style, and each issue is dealt with in short, one to two page well-indexed segments. This book is a great reference.
“Solutions helped me grow both personally and professionally. I learned how to improve my memory skills, overcome writer's block, and handle criticism. Solutions is full of strategies for overcoming challenges faced in the workplace, but above and beyond the strategies is a subtle 'push' to do better and grow!”  Stephanie Dufek
"Whether you are an employee or an employer, this book will resonate. Unless you have been living under a rock, you have already been exposed to many of these problems that cause conflicts at work, resulting in stress and lost productivity, and negatively affecting health and happiness.”  Trevor Bremner
Dr. Lynne Curry has been a resident of Alaska since 1972 and is a member of 49 Writers.  She has been exceeding client expectations since1978 as the President of The Growth Company, Inc., a consulting, training, human resources and organizational strategy firm. Curry has provided more than 55,000 consulting projects to more than 3,700 organizations worldwide.  Her clients attest to her professionalism and results-orientation. In addition to her doctorate, Curry has a Senior Professional in Human Resources certificate. Solutions was published by Publication Consultants and is available in a Kindle edition as well as in paperback. Solutions can be purchased locally at and from Amazon

Categories: Arts & Culture

Celebrate Cirque: Claiming another Solstice

Mon, 12/22/2014 - 7:00am

The 11th issue of Cirque will be posted at (Volume 6, Number 1) on Winter Solstice, December 21.   This release marks five years since Michael Burwell established Cirque, in order 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.  
In the first issue of Cirque, Burwell wrote, “Writing comes out of place and Cirquespeaks from and for the North.”  North, according to Cirque, includes AK, WA, ID, OR, MT, HI, British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, Alberta and Chukotka.  To date, Cirque has published the work of over 375 writers and 90 artists and photographers. None from Chukotka, though. Not yet.     Burwell created the scaffolding for Cirque, which challenged many of the standard practices of a literary journal.  Burwell melded art and writing, creating a literary journal that can almost claim to be a journal of the arts. 
Cirque can be read full-text, in full graphic display, online (no charge), in order to fully meet the goal of bringing Cirquecontributors to the world. Past issues are archived, back to Cirque 1.1, and this preservation of content will continue. 
Cirque is open to simultaneous submissions and, occasionally, will take a piece published previously, because some writing needs a wider audience. 
Burwell published the first five issues.  When he moved out of state, he asked Sandra Kleven to take the reins but obliged when she asked him to work with her.  He has remained involved with each subsequent issue.
Kleven says, “The word mentor is used rather loosely these days, applied to any teacher/student pairing.  Burwell mentors me in the truest sense of the word.  His excellence moves my skills to new levels aiming for the highest of standards.” Partnership has kept Cirque on track, on time, and fully funded by sales and donations.
The new issue includes
·         A short story, “Mountain Pose,” by noted author Valerie Miner·         An interview with Vivian Faith Prescott that discusses the passing of former poet laureate Richard Dauenhauer and their work on Tlingit language revitalization.  ·         Rebecca Goodrich’s review of Cynthia Ritchie’s novel, Dolls Behaving Badly and Kathleen Tarr’s review of The Far Reaches of the Fourth Genre, by Sean Prentiss and Joe Wilkins.  ·         This issue includes work from 93 writers and 28 visual artists.
On 12/21, hard copies can be ordered at the web address above. The cost is $25 per issue including postage. 
The next Cirque deadline is March 21st (the equinox).  The submission address is  
Categories: Arts & Culture

Weekly Roundup of News and Events

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 7:00am
Frank Soos teaches the Art of the EssayWe were delighted by the announcement that Frank Soos has been selected to serve as the next Alaska Writer Laureate. Frank has worked with many of our writers over the last year, helping them to to develop their work and 'the art of the essay.' He has become a much loved member of the 49 Writers faculty for his expertise, enthusiasm, and encouragement of each writer. We know he will bring a unique stamp to this role and advocate for writers across the state.

A big thanks to those of you who attended the meet and greet last Friday evening at Orso with the 49 Writers board (apologies from Katrina Pearson, who couldn't be there after a last minute change to her travel schedule from Juneau). Our board members were pleased to have the opportunity to meet you all and get to know more about your involvement and your literary aspirations. The board retreat that followed on Saturday was a resounding success, with exciting plans laid for the coming year and beyond. The transition to our new executive director, Morgan Grey, is almost complete, with Linda posed to bid adieu at the end of the month. Keep following this blog for news and information about 2015 happenings at 49 Writers!

Pick.Click.Give. to 49 Writers! PFD application time is right around the corner, and that's your opportunity to Pick.Click.Give.! Your Pick.Click.Give donations support 49 Writers programs around the state. We received almost $2,500 in our first year as a Pick.Click.Give organization. You can help us double that in 2015. Plus, have a chance to double their dividends. It's good for all of us.

But wait, there's more! To show our appreciation, 49 Writers will give gifts to donors:
- $75 donors will receive an original Alaskan art card from Shorefast Editions in Juneau
- $150 donors will receive an autographed book by an Alaskan author.

Thank you for your support.

Drum roll, please! Here is the calendar schedule of spring classes in Anchorage. We will be opening registration a little earlier this year, since the first course begins in January. Find full information on the 49 Writers website. Registration will open on Monday, Dec. 29.

The Spiritual in Writing: Across Faith, Genres, and Time with Kathleen TarrJanuary 21, 6-8:30pm; January 30, 6-8:30pm; January 31, 9am-12pm; February 4, 6-8:30pm; February 7, 9am-12pm; February 11, 6-8:30pm (16 hours). $255 members/$305 non-members. Do consider taking this class while Kathleen's still in Anchorage, she's a writer on the move!
‘What Chu Talk'n 'Bout Willis?” with Bryan Fierro: Saturday, February 21, 9am-4pm (6 hours). $95 members/$115 non-members.
Writing the Three Dimensional Novel or Memoir: The Essential Ingredients to Capture Your Reader and Engage an Audience with Rachel Weaver: Saturday, February 28, 9am-4pm (6 hours), $95 members/$115 non-members.
Joining the Conversation: Engaging with Poets Past with Sandra Kleven: Thursdays, March 5, 12 & 19 and April 2, 9 & 16, 6-8pm (12 hours). $190 members/$230 non-members.
Historical Research Sources for Writers with Lawrence Weiss: Saturday, March 21, 9am-12pm (3 hours). $50 members/$60 non-members.
How to Publish Your Book on Kindle with Lawrence Weiss: Saturday, March 28, 9am-12pm (3 hours). $50 members/$60 non-members.
Andromeda Romano-Lax will be offering three online courses this spring, expanding our offerings to writers across Alaska. These classes are asynchronous: that is, there are no scheduled meeting times but there will be weekly assignments and expectations, and everyone will complete the work on their own time. Interaction will utilize text-based formats such as discussion boards.
Point of View Intensive with Andromeda Romano-Lax: Sunday, February 8–Saturday, March 7, 12 hours over 4 weeks, online, asynchronous. $195 members/$250 non-members.
Anatomy of Scene with Andromeda Romano-Lax: Sunday, March 8–Saturday, April 4, 9 hours over 4 weeks, online, asynchronous. $195 members/$250 non-members.
Revision Intensive with Andromeda Romano-Lax: Sunday, April 5–Saturday, May 3018+ hours over 8 weeks, online, asynchronous. $295 members/$350 non-members.
Our Juneau schedule will be announced before the end of the year. We are still pinning down dates but can tell you that Rachel Weaver will reprise her class there on March 2 & 3, and poet Jeremy Pataky will be teaching for us in Juneau at the end of March.

Looking for the perfect gift for a writer friend this festive season? Why not surprise them with a 49 Writers membership? A Matanuska membership costs only $49 for 12 months! Click here to purchase a gift voucher.

Events in Anchorage

Monday, Dec. 22, 4-6pm, UAA Campus Bookstore: Kseniya Melnik presents Snow in May, which introduces a cast of characters bound by their relationship to the port town of Magadan in Russia's Far East, a former gateway for prisoners assigned to Stalin’s forced-labor camps. Comprised of a surprising mix of newly minted professionals, ex-prisoners, intellectuals, musicians, and faithful Party workers, the community is vibrant and resilient and life in Magadan thrives even under the cover of near-perpetual snow. Born in Magadan, Melnik moved to Alaska in 1998. She received her MFA from NYU. Snow in May was short-listed for the International Dylan Thomas Prize and long-listed for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award.

Wednesday, Jan. 21, 7pm: Nature and Travel Writing Class begins. Anchorage essayist and author Bill Sherwonit will teach a 12-week nature and travel writing class beginning Jan. 21 in the Sierra Club office downtown. Participants in this workshop-style class will explore and refine their own writing styles, with an emphasis on the personal essay form. The class will also read and discuss works by some of America’s finest nature and travel writers, past and present. The cost is $240. To sign up for this Wednesday night class (7 to 9:30 p.m.), or for more information, contact Sherwonit at 245-0283 or Further information about the teacher is also available at

Events around Alaska

Friday, Dec. 19, 6:30pm, Kindred Post, 145 South Franklin, Juneau: Woosh Kinaadeiyí--Conor Lendrum and Christy NaMee Eriksen--will host this month’s open mic and poetry slam with DJ Manu. It is open to poets and performers of all ages and all abilities. 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 Contact: Christy NaMee Eriksen, Woosh Kinaadeiyí President,

Literary News

Congratulations to Sitka author John Straley for leading off the Boston Globe's list of 2014 Best Crime Books with Cold Storage, Alaska!

We were delighted to learn that not one but two of our members, Karen Benning and Carol Richards, have been accepted into the Hedgebrook residency program--way to go, Alaska's women writers!
Opportunities for Writers
The deadline for this year's UAA/Alaska Dispatch Creative Writing Contest is fast approaching. Go to for complete rules, list of prizes, and submission guidelines and send us your best fiction, nonfiction or poetry. Deadline is Feb. 20, 2015, 5:30pm. Winners will be announced in mid-May.
The Alaska Sampler is an annual ebook anthology of prose by Alaska’s finest contemporary authors. It’s free to the reader. For the author, it’s a proven discovery tool for increasing readership. Running Fox Books is currently seeking fresh fiction and non-fiction by Alaskan authors that reveal the unscripted, everyday Alaska. Works may be original or already published, whole or excerpted. Illustrations and photos for the cover are also being considered. Submissions must be received by Jan. 10, 2015. To learn more, visit
Jan. 1, 2015 Fairbanks Arts Association will begin accepting entries for the 2015 Statewide Poetry Contest, deadline Mar. 1, 2015, 6pm (hand delivered or postmarked). Hand deliver entries to Fairbanks Arts Association, Alaska Centennial Center for the Arts, Pioneer Park, 2300 Airport Way. This year's judge is Joan Naviyuk Kane, author of The Cormorant Hunter's Wife and Hyperboreal. A 2014 recipient of the American Book Award, and Whiting Writers' Award recipient, she's on the faculty for the graduate creative writing program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Visit for more information. 
Jan. 31, 2015 Ooligan Press is proud to announce their seventh Write to Publish conference, to be held at the Smith Memorial Student Union located at 1825 SW Broadway, Portland, Oregon. Panel topics include how to write about difficult subjects, straight talk about contracts and rights, and how to create a professional platform. Workshops will feature editing and design tips. Authors will be able to sign up to pitch story ideas to publishers and agents.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Deb: Seeking Your Best Alaska Writing: The Alaska Sampler 2015

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 6:00am

By now, I hope you’ve heard of the Alaska Sampler, an annual ebook anthology of prose by Alaska’s finest contemporary authors. It’s free to the reader. For the author, it’s a proven discovery tool for increasing readership. And through Jan. 10, 2015, we’re accepting submissions for the Alaska Sampler 2015.
Because the Sampleris offered for free, it consistently ranks high in search results for Alaska books, making it an effective and ongoing means of promotion for contributing authors. As a discovery tool, it enables contributing authors to reach new readers outside their usual genres. As a sampler, it allows authors with upcoming new works on Alaska to offer a preview chapter or excerpt to their readers.
Here’s what readers are saying about the Alaska Sampler 2014:
“I've never been to Alaska, and probably never will go, as it's on the other side of the world from me, but this collection certainly ignited my own interest in the region . . . I've also already downloaded longer works by a couple of the authors that I liked best.”
“I was pleasantly surprised by the writing in the Alaska Sampler . . . I'll be looking up several of the authors in the Sampler to read more of their work.”
“One of the best trips I ever took was to Alaska. This book is a chance to visit again, with a variety of fascinating viewpoints, and without even packing a suitcase! Led to it by one favorite author, walking away with several new favorites.”
“A wonderful compendium of all things Alaska. Please publish one every year or two. Surely there are enough wonderful Alaskan authors.”
For the Alaska Sampler 2015, we’re looking for fresh, original fiction and nonfiction that reveals the unscripted, everyday Alaska that we cherish. Provided the author has the digital rights, submissions may be reprints of previously published work. The best way to discover what sort of work makes the cut is to check out the Alaska Sampler 2014—because, you know, it’s free.
We’re also seeking cover images, both photos and artwork. We’re interested in images that show Alaska in new and unusual ways to use on our cover. You must have the digital rights to images you submit, or they must be in the public domain or under Creative Commons copyright (attribution, commercial, adaptation). Images should be in RGB jpg format and at least 1563 x 2500 pixels in size (1:1.6 ratio).

Submissions must be received by Jan. 10, 2015. To learn more, visit Running Fox Books
Categories: Arts & Culture

Sandra Kleven: Troubled about Alaska

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 6:00am

Ten years ago, I made a radical change. I left Bethel for Anchorage. Lisa Demer wrote about it. “Social Worker Leaves Tragedy Behind,” read the front page headline, as if it my move were big news.
Anchorage would have a creative community and my articulated purpose was to find it. I continued to work as a clinical social worker, but my intention when I got here in 2004 was to build the skills and relationships needed to be an artist in the world. Professionals had failed. I had failed. Make way for artists, clowns, and poets.
The creativesof Anchorage shaped themselves around me as if they were spirits directly called. The multiply talented Yngvil Guttu asked me to be the First Friday poet in December of 2005. I had three hours to prepare. A twelve-year-old Juneau boy helped me as part of his counseling session. “Wanna help me write a poem?” I asked. He said, “Sure.” Creative therapy.   Individuals merged, became larger entities. Bruce Farnsworth ran the Mountain View Gallery (Trailer Art Center), where on Winter Solstice, 2006, I read, “A Murder of Crows” orating while balanced on a saw horse, so I could peer out over the crowd. Through Yngvil, I met Dawnell Smith, Linda Lucky, Melissa Wanamaker, Hal Gage, and Izzy. I dyed my hair an incredible red and took up belly dancing.
Also taking shape were F Magazine, brainchild of Gretchen Weiss and Teeka Ballas; 49 Writers, birthed by Deb Vanasse and Andromeda Romano Lax; and Cirque, a literary journal founded by Michael Burwell. Yngvil Guttu founded the Spenard JazzFest and a few years into it asked me to be festival poet. Elizabeth L Thompson performed with me and by the fourth year we formed a mixed media group, Venus Transit, with nine members. 
I wrote instant poems for a dollar on any subject. Dreamed of writing a few thousand. It was a fundraiser. I don’t remember the fund. A sample written on the spot at the 2009 Spenard JazzFest:
For Pete and Vickie Wind moans through hollow trees
and the night, still light, defies time.
Then morning birdsong
reckless with hope, with improvisational abandon.
And here you are with me, enduring, unsettling, exciting, mine.

The Creative Writing MFA program at UAA was struggling toward its current shape as a low residency program. Enrolled since 2005, I joined with other students in opposition to this move. Think it over, we urged. We believed then that this move would lead to a program serving non-Alaskans with money. We made waves; made the news.     I would write
I view this spectacle like a little dog, head a-tilt,
a-tuned to lively ditties from an old calliope.
I have seen it all by now – a carnival of fat little kings with ladders,
really not so different from the one I left behind.

Then, in 2007, the youngest in our class, Jason Wenger, was murdered on a Sunday morning, as he sat in his Lois Street driveway warming up his car. My dad died that month, too, and in the spring, my brother took his own life. I would leave tragedy behind.
Students from out of state came to the Low Residency program. They were just like the rest of us, essentially, wonderful.
The new students expanded horizons and created connections beyond Alaska even as they were transformed into Alaska-shaped beings. You know, long drooping peninsulas, spits, gouged out bays, hulking mountain, birded estuaries, mud flats. They were okay.
David Stevenson was hired to run the low residency program with writer Kathleen Tarr as the program coordinator. The level of excellence represented by David and Kathleen cannot be overstated. The program thrived. I tabled my objections, graduated, and published poems; published my first book of creative writing, Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing, with Vered Mares at VP&D Publishing House.  
Thirty years of social work were behind me. I could stop being so damn good; role model for the legions. Call me an edgy writer. Burwell dubbed me quirkyand then gifted me with the editorship of his journal, Cirque. In the ten years since I announced my intention, I was immersed in the creative community of Anchorage – and Alaska – connected to important things, but I was left with a very big problem. Haunted by the troubles of rural Alaska, I was still compelled to beat on a bucket, lamenting about troubles in rural Alaska.
An insistent vibration arises from two centuries of compression; something wills its way out. Something says, Tell it. 
By way of illustration, consider this sketch of one untold story:  My friend has been teaching in villages for more than twenty years. A couple years back, a former student committed suicide. She said, “That is number fifty-three.” Fifty-three former students had been lost to suicide, murder, illness and accident. Stunned by that number, I begged her to write her story – how, in the ‘90s she arrived with her newly minted degree; how it started and how it did not end; how she grappled with questions of why and what should I do? I urge her to write as a witness. Today, she updated the number – it now stands at sixty-seven.    
Next week: Acts of Attention: Lancing Wounds, Treating with Inquiry’s Ointment
Editor of Cirque, a literary journal, Sandra Kleven is a poet, filmmaker, and essayist. She also facilitates Poetry Parley, a monthly poetry event (Hugi-Lewis Studio). Her own work has appeared in AQR, Oklahoma Review, Topic, Praxilla Stoneboat, f-zine and the UAP anthology, Cold Flashes. Two poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her work has also won notice in the UAA Creative Writing and F’Air Words contests. Kleven is the author of four books, her most recent being Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing (VP&D Publishing House). She holds an MSW degree as well as an MFA in Creative Writing and works for Alaska Native tribal organizations as a clinical social worker.  Kleven claims affinity for Alaska, where she lives with her husband, and Washington State, where she was born.  
Categories: Arts & Culture

The Writer's Mind - and Heart

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 6:00am

Not long ago, I took a writerly side trip. You know how it goes. You’re getting back to your novel after a few too many days away for celebrations and family and a whole lot of other things that matter a lot, plus a few that only matter a little but still manage to snag your time, and you’re trying to get into the swing of your narrative because you know if you get to a certain spot you’ll be truly engaged and the story will carry you off the way you hope it will carry your future readers, but that spot teases and hides till you reach a little epiphany: it’s time for some research.

I won’t go into how and why I ended up researching prehistoric humanoids with over-sized brains, but it did get me thinking, not only about how to use the information in my story but how much nicer it might be if writers had the generous 25% bonus brain of a Boskop.

I stumbled on the Boskops in an excerpt from the book Big Brain by Gary Lynch and Richard Granger, reprinted in the December 28, 2009 issue of Discover magazine. These neuroscientists believe that skulls unearthed in Boskop, South Africa in 1913 come from a giant-brained group that flickered, sputtered, and died off approximately 10,000 years ago.

Lynch and Granger contend that in relation to their large cranial capacity, the Boskops had small, childlike facial features reminiscent of…well, maybe you've caught one of those Twilight Zone marathons?

Extrapolating on potential brain capacity, the authors believe these hominids may have boasted IQs averaging 150 and stretching to 180, not to mention an “inconceivably large” frontal cortex.

“While your own prefrontal area might link a sequence of visual material to form an episodic memory,” they write, “the Boskop may have added additional material from sounds, smells, and so on. Where your memory of a walk down a Parisian street may include the mental visual image of the street vendor, the bistro, and the charming little church, the Boskop may also have had the music coming from the bistro, the conversations from other strollers, and the peculiar window over the door of the church.”

The Boskops were a tad pre-Paris, but you get the idea. Higher IQ, heightened sensory memory. If only we writers had Boskop brains. Then there’s this:

“Longer brain pathways lead to larger and deeper memory hierarchies. These confer a greater ability to examine and discard more blind alleys, to see more consequences of a plan before enacting it. In general this enables us to think things through. If Boskops had longer chains of cortical networks—longer mental assembly lines—they would have created longer and more complex classification chains. When they looked down a road as far as they could, before choosing a path, they would have seen farther than we can: more potential outcomes, more possible downstream costs and benefits.”

If writers got three wishes, surely this would one: to imagine more deeply, while knowing the narrative costs of following one thread over another.

But there’s a downside to this super-sized thinking. Lynch and Granger speculate that aside from the difficulty of birthing large-headed babies, the Boskops may have been overwhelmed by their own potential and frustrated by their inability to make good on it. And there is that little extinction problem.

More important than wishing for long-lost genes is doing the best with what you’ve got, the way . pharmaceutical heiress Ruth Lilly did. An aspiring poet, Lilly attempted but never achieved publication in Poetry magazine. Undaunted, she applauded the positive tone of her rejections and, in 2002, donated $100 million to further the magazine’s mission of advancing poetry.

The Boskops may have us beat when it comes to brains, but our hearts – well, that’s another matter altogether. In this season of giving, consider the many ways you can open your hearts to others within the literary community.  Recommend books you love; every author appreciates sincere word-of-mouth praise. Mentor an emerging writer. Donate your time, talents, and cash to a literary nonprofit like 49 Writers. Attend readings, signings, and other literary events. Support the innovative efforts of other writers on crowdsourcing sites, in journals, and on blogs.

When you finish a book, take a minute to leave your thoughts at online sites like Goodreads and Amazon. You’ll be giving the gift of social proof while helping readers find books they’ll enjoy. Like, comment, and share. Email writers to let them know you enjoyed their books. The few minutes you take to write your email will multiply into days (if not weeks) of encouragement for the author. 
Just yesterday I received this from a reader: 
That book blew me away! Thank you for it. Write more. Soon. I'm greedy . . . At this point I'm a raging fan! 
Sent from an iPhone, the note took only seconds to write. But what a gift. Never mind the size of my brain; my heart is warmed beyond compare.
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. This post also ran at
Would you like to write a guest post relevant to Alaska’s literary community? Email 49writers (at) or debvanasse (at)
Categories: Arts & Culture

Michael Engelhard: A Beast for the Ages

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 6:00am

You can spend much time in the North’s backcountry without ever bumping into some of its more secretive denizens—lynx, wolves, or wolverines. I’d like to use this opportunity to share my encounter with an Arctic critter I had never met face-to-face until recently: Ursus maritimus, the polar bear. It happened in 2010, on an 11-day rafting trip on the Canning River (the western boundary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) that I was co-guiding for Alaska wilderness outfitter. The encounter was not exactly face-to-face, rather binocular-to-face, but nevertheless, life-changing. Here is what I wrote, to give you a taste of the experience:
Sipping coffee in the morning’s quiet, looking south from the top of the bluff where we pitched our tents, I notice a white lump on the bench below muscling toward camp. I cannot believe my eyes. A polar bear! The clients pop from their nylon cocoons when I alert them—one clad in boxer shorts and a down jacket. We stand and watch the bear sniff and root around. To this carnivore, accustomed to fatty seals and other marine mammals, the only morsels of interest here would be ground squirrels, foxes, or birds—none of which could satisfy the hunger of this blubber-burning powerhouse.
Without a care in the world, the bear lies down for a nap halfway up the bluff’s slope. What is there to fear? We sit and keep our binoculars trained on the pile that could easily be mistaken for a limestone boulder. Occasionally, the bear lifts its head to sample the air. We crouch downwind from it, and it remains unaware of our presence.Before long, a Golden Eagle strokes past. Mobbed by some songbirds but still regal in its bearing, it scrutinizes the bear, which sleeps on, unconcerned. Then I catch another bright spot heading downstream. A scan with my glasses reveals a white wolf. Indifferent to our attempts to make sense of it all, the wolf approaches the sleeping bear. Casting sideways glances and giving it a wide berth of respect, the wolf saunters over a ridge, out of sight but already etched into memory.
Because the bear is not moving much and poses no immediate threat, I have breakfast and break down my tent. Then I act as lookout while the rest of the group takes their turn and loads the rafts, shielded by the bluff and prevailing wind . . .
This obviously came as a total surprise, and, at the time, was the southernmost sighting of a polar bear inside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—almost 30 miles from the coast. It was only one of the many highlights on this trip, which to this day stands out as one of the best ones I’ve been on. Everybody was awe-struck, but for me the encounter sparked, what for lack of a better term might be called an obsession with polar bears. (Ask my wife. She’ll tell you how I can hardly talk about anything else these days.) I’ve been a bear enthusiast for decades, but seeing this animal, “out of place” and without bars between it and us, kicked my obsession up to a new level.
I started to read up on polar bears and on 8,000 years of shared history between them and us and was amazed by some of the things I learned: That Vikings traded live cubs to European royalty. That Roald Amundsen tried to train polar bears (with the help of a circus man) to pull sleds to the pole. That, on hand-colored Renaissance maps, they sometimes are brown. That a long wooden staff wielded effectively can deter nosy polar bears. (Don’t try this yourself, though.)
I was so intrigued and amazed by what I found, and much of the information was sort of obscure, that I decided to write my own book with everything I ever wanted to learn about the charismatic carnivore. Now, there are quite a few books out there about polar bear biology and so on—but I wanted to know what lay at the root of our fascination with this animal, how we relate to it.
The making of this book, like many an Arctic trip, has been quite a journey. And like all journeys, it needed some funding. It still does, as many of the illustrations I hope to round up require licensing or processing fees that go to museums or special collections libraries. So I began to crowd-fund the project, and you can find the link here. I hope that this animal and its home will affect others as it has affected me and that the Great White Bear will continue to grace both, our internal and external landscapes for thousands of years to come.

Michael Engelhard lives in Cordova, Alaska and works as a wilderness guide in the Arctic. He has been obsessed with bears for decades now, despite the fact that he almost got mauled by one last summer. He has written several books and articles for numerous publications, and edited four anthologies of nature writing. The canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona is his other favorite region.

Categories: Arts & Culture

Alaska Shorts: There Was, by Ziva Berkowitz Kimmel

Thu, 12/11/2014 - 6:00am
There was a girl, just like any other.Special, just like any other. She lived in her own realm, next to all the others. In her realm, black was white, and red was blue.The darkness was intoxicating; the sound of silence suffocating. The empty words and hollow sounds. Heads raised high, feet on the ground.Her mind is turning.Thrashing.Bashing.Churning.Yearning.It yearns for you, and you for me, and me for two, and two for three. In her world, desire is a box, a cup, a collection of stars. It’s a spider’s web; inescapable and fatal. Souls bound to one another by invisible thread. You can lose yourself in the abyss of love. Its hold is infinite and endless, for the heart beats to its very own tune and all is shrouded. Ribs are ivory prisons encasing this beating heart, this hollow shell.In her world, unquenchable hunger drives the skeleton, devoid of compassion and full of pounding misery. Piercing cries and flooding weeps seep into the corridors of the round room. That empty canvas that everyone leaves. Leaves fall from the sky, the mighty sky, up so damn high.She mines for the treasure.She mines to keep.Her hopeless thoughts resume their trails of mindless inklings, taking shapes of echoes throughout the icy canyon. The water taken fancy with the embrace of soiled soil.In her world, abstract thoughts and unconscious chatter fill the lush forests that patrol the outskirts. The lone wolves and hopeless romantics hide in the society that cowers beneath the conforming skies. And she lives, trapped in an inconceivable loneliness. She survives, drowning in the sorrow and shards of broken heart beats. Her blue eyes of wonder remain sealed by the unspeakable truth. Her lips are stained and bound with her unspoken words. She dances on the brink of hopelessness, and flirts on the cusp of greatness. Her hopscotch lines have already been drawn. Her stars have been collected, and counted. Recollected and recounted once more. In her world, mountains reign from high above, and rain pours down in form of love. Music dances in the air, thoughts wander with no travel fare. She listens carefully for nature’s forbidden whisper. She looks for the beauty in the sun, raging and reaching. Beauty in the stars, blistering starling bulbs screwed into the fabric of time. There are rips there, too. Imperfections. In her world, sadness is accompanied by the anthem of death: silence. Desolate like a desert. Loyal, with her for every waking moment. Cloaks of pity adorn the sea of bodies draped in black. Comfort baskets, full of dying flowers and stale bread, but no comfort. In her world, the stars are strewn across the midnight sky and scattered throughout the Milky Way. The colors bloom and saturate the dark canvas. In her world, love is this mystical being. It transcends all of humanity and existence. It’s poised, and cold, and limp and warm. It’s strong, unknown, bewildering and inexplicable. It’s a stronger force than that of gravity. It’s the hesitant mercy and merciless beast. There was a girl, like any other.
Special, just like any other. 
Would you like to see your work published here? Check our Alaska Shorts guidelines and submit today!
Categories: Arts & Culture


Please Note: You may have disabled JavaScript and/or CSS. Although this news content will be accessible, certain functionality is unavailable.

Skip to News

« back

next »

  • title
  • title
  • title
Slideshow | Shop with a Cop


  • Switchboard: 907-586-3740
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-586-3740
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-586-3028
  • Business Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-523-2230
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback