David Hunsaker receives honorary doctorate, to give commencement speach

Dave Hunsaker grew up in a military family, moving around mainly west coast states. He first came to Alask in 1972 as a musician in Anchorage. For the first time he felt like he had a home and a place he belonged. He earned a BA from Utah State University in 1975 and an MA from the University of Virginia in 1977 before settling in Alaska for good.

Hunsaker was a music teacher in the village of Tyonek where, at the Village Council’s request, he created both a rock and roll and a country-western dance band. He worked as a resource person and publications editor for the Aleutian Region School District for several years, traveling to small villages on the Aleutian Islands. It was on one of these islands that he met the great love of his life, Annie Calkins. In 1982 they married and moved to Juneau where they built a house on Lynn Canals’ Breadline Bluff on Lynn Canal the year they were married, 1982, and have lived there ever since.

Hunsaker worked with Perseverance Theatre in several capacities: as an actor (Mother Courage), director (India Song), and writer (Lady Rankin Meets the Pagan). Struck by cultural and values similarities between the Yup’ik people of Western Alaska and the Ancient Greeks, he created the play Yup’ik Antigone. Perseverance obtained a grant for Hunsaker and designer and technical director Jim Simard to go to Toksook Bay where they found a cast of non-actors and created the play. It went on to tour Alaska, have a sold out run in New York City, go to France and to play on the ancient stages of Greece.

At the request of the Sealaska Heritage Foundation, Hunsaker and Simard established the touring Naa Kahidi Theatre, which specialized in bringing to life stories, songs, and dances from Alaskan Native literature. Hunsaker served as artistic director for 10 years as it toured in Alaska, throughout North America and, a few times, in Europe.

During this time Hunsaker continued work with Perseverance Theatre. His plays The Birds (an adaptation from Aristophanes), The Walker in the Snow, and Battles of Fire and Water (based on Dick and Nora Dauenhauer’s masterful account of the Battles of Sitka) were all performed at Perseverance, and a new play, Warriors, will premiere there this summer.

Hunsaker also worked with Juneau’s Theatre in the Rough, creating summer outdoor pieces in association with UAS and the Bread Loaf School of English. His Three Way River was the first performance performed in the Noyes Pavilion. Over the years his plays have been performed in New York , San Francisco, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles; includong The North Wind, Papyrus, The Wild Man, Twelve Tales of Ossian, Devil’s Canyon, The Dancing Fox, and Karagiosis.

“Mostly my work has always been about exploring the myths and oral literature of the world,” he said.

He makes his living as a screen writer, writing screenplays for most of the major studios. His first feature script, Winter Warrior, was based on a cycle of stories told to him by the Yup’ik people in Toksook Bay. He has worked with such legendary filmmakers as Norman Jewison, Julie Taymor, Carroll Ballard, Mel Gibson, the late Tony Scott, Roger Donaldson, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Hunsaker was adopted by Austin Hammond, Sr., of Haines into the Lukaax.ádi (Sockeye) Clan. He is also the recipient of a Governor’s Award for the Arts and a fellowship in the Arts from the State of New York. Hunsaker’s graphic novel, The North End of the World, was published by Black Watch Comics in October 2012. His novel The Circus of the Dark Moon will be published next year.

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