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'Snow Child' author Eowyn Ivey to visit Juneau this week

Posted: May 29, 2013 - 11:00pm
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Alaskan author Eowyn Ivey signs books during a 49 Writers event at the Anchorage Museum on Feb. 22, 2012.  BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Alaskan author Eowyn Ivey signs books during a 49 Writers event at the Anchorage Museum on Feb. 22, 2012.

Alaska author Eowyn Ivey, whose novel “The Snow Child” was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in fiction, will be in Juneau this week for three events.

On Thursday, she’ll give a presentation at the Downtown Public Library beginning at 7 p.m. On Friday, she’ll host a booksigning at Hearthside Books downtown from 1-2 p.m. And Friday evening, beginning at 5:30 p.m., she’ll be one of the featured authors on Hearthside’s fourth annual Authors at Sea Cruise, joining local authors Nick Jans, Mary Willson, John Hyde, Kathy Hocker, Susi and Jim Fowler, and Bob Armstrong. The three-hour cruise departs from Statter Harbor, and tickets can be purchased at both Hearthside locations.

Ivey, a former reporter for the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, lives in Chickaloon. “The Snow Child,” published in February 2012 and released in paperback last November, was her first novel. It has enjoyed enormous success, both in the US and in Europe. In addition to being a finalist for the Pulitzer, it won the 2013 Indies Choice Award for debut fiction, and the 2013 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award. Ivey was also named the UK National Book Award’s International Author of the Year for 2012, among many other honors, and the book has been published in more than 20 languages and 30 countries.

In a recent interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Ivey said she was inspired to write the “The Snow Child” while working for Fireside Books in Palmer. There she found a copy of a children’s Russian fairytale, “Snegurochka,” and was immediately captivated by the story. Ivey’s book retains the original premise, in which an elderly couple who long for a child discover a little girl of mysterious, perhaps magical origins in the snowy woods near their home. But Ivey’s version, told for an adult audience, is set in the Alaskan wilderness in the 1920s, and is in many ways an Alaskan story, balancing the grim hardships of homesteading with the stunning beauty of the natural world.

Ivey has lived in Alaska since she was 4. Her essays and short fiction have been published in London’s Observer Magazine, Sunday Times Magazine, the literary journal Cirque, FiveChapters, and Alaska Magazine, among other publications. She is a also a contributor to the Alaska-based blog 49Writers.

Now a mother of two, she received her bachelor’s in journalism and creative writing at Western Washington University and studied creative nonfiction at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s graduate program.

For more on Ivey’s Juneau events, visit www.hearthsidebooks.com. For more on Ivey, visit www.eowynivey.com.

An excerpt from “The Snow Child”

“Afternoon descended into dusk, and Mabel left the window to light an oil lamp on the table, as if she was going to prepare dinner and wait for Jack’s return, as if this day would end like any other, but in her mind she was already following the trail through the woods to the Wolverine River. The lamp burned as she laced her leather boots, put her winter coat on over her housedress, and stepped outside. Her hands and head were bare to the wind.

As she strode through the naked trees, she was both exhilarated and numb, chilled by the clarity of her purpose. She did not think of what she left behind, but only of this moment in a sort of black-and-white precision. The hard clunk of her boot soles on the frozen ground. The icy breeze in her hair. Her expansive breaths. She was strangely powerful and sure.

She emerged from the forest and stood on the bank of the frozen river. It was calm except for the occasional gust of wind that ruffled her skirt against her wool stockings and swirled silt across the ice. Farther upstream, the glacier-fed valley stretched half a mile wide with gravel bars, driftwood, and braided shallow channels, but here the river ran narrow and deep. Mabel could see the shale cliff on the far side that fell off into black ice. Below, the water would be well over her head.

The cliff became her destination, though she expected to drown before she reached it. The ice was only an inch or two thick, and even in the depths of winter no one would dare to cross at this treacherous point.

At first her boots caught on boulders, frozen in the sandy shore, but then she staggered down the steep bank and crossed a small rivulet where the ice was thin and brittle. She broke through every other step to hit dry sand beneath. Then she crossed a barren patch of gravel and hiked up her skirt to climb over a driftwood log, faded by the elements.

When she reached the river’s main channel, where water still coursed down the valley, the ice was no longer brittle and white but instead black and pliant, as if it had only solidified the night before. She slid her boot soles onto the surface and nearly laughed at her own absurdity — to be careful not to slip even as she prayed to fall through.

She was several feet from safe ground when she allowed herself to stop and peer down between her boots. It was like walking on glass. She could see granite rocks beneath the mov¬ing, dark turquoise water. A yellow leaf floated by, and she imagined herself swept alongside it and briefly looking up through the remarkably clear ice. Before the water filled her lungs, would she be able to see the sky?

Here and there, bubbles as large as her hand were frozen in white circles, and in other places large cracks ran through. She wondered if the ice was weaker at those points, and if she should seek them out or avoid them. She set her shoulders, faced straight ahead, and walked without looking down.

When she crossed the heart of the channel, the cliff face was almost within arm’s length, the water was a muffled roar, and the ice gave slightly beneath her. Against her will, she glanced down, and what she saw terrified her. No bubbles. No cracks. Only bottomless black, as if the night sky were under her boots. She shifted her weight to take another step toward the cliff, and there was a crack, a deep, resonant pop like a massive Champagne bottle being uncorked. Mabel spread her feet wide and her knees trembled. She waited for the ice to give way, for her body to plunge into the river. Then there was another thud, a whoompf, and she was certain the ice slumped beneath her boots, but in millimeters, nearly imperceptible except for the awful sound.

She waited and breathed, and the water didn’t come. The ice bore her. She slid her feet slowly, first one, then the other, again and again, a slow shuffle until she stood where ice met cliff. Never had she imagined she would be here, on the far side of the river. She put her bare palms to the cold shale, then the entire length of her body, until her forehead was pressed to it and she could smell the stone, ancient and damp.

Its cold began to seep into her, so she lowered her arms to her sides, turned from the cliff face, and began the journey back the way she had come. Her heart thudded in her throat. Her legs were unsteady. She wondered if now, as she made her way home, she would break through to her death.

As she neared solid ground, she wanted to run to it, but the ice was too slick beneath her boots, so she slid as if ice-skating and then stumbled up the bank. She gasped and coughed and nearly laughed, as if it had all been a lark, a mad dare. Then she bent with her hands on her thighs and tried to steady herself.

When she slowly straightened, the land was vast before her. The sun was setting down the river, casting a cold pink hue along the white-capped mountains that framed both sides of the valley. Upriver, the willow shrubs and gravel bars, the spruce forests and low-lying poplar stands, swelled to the mountains in a steely blue. No fields or fences, homes or roads; not a single living soul as far as she could see in any direction. Only wilderness.

It was beautiful, Mabel knew, but it was a beauty that ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all. She turned her back to the river and walked home.” -- From Chapter 1 of “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey, reprinted by permission

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