Skagway and Homer writers' conferences carry state's literary fire

Posted: Thursday, June 03, 2010

Writers from across the state and beyond will gather at two conferences this month to gain inspiration in a series of lectures and panel discussions exploring the craft. The North Words Writers Symposium will be held in Skagway, followed later in the month by the Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference in Homer.

So, is Skagway, an isolated place that many writers outside the state might not have even heard of, inspiring?

"Damn right we are," said Buckwheat Donahue, founder of the North Words Writers Symposium. "If only you could come see and experience us, then you wouldn't ask that question. Southeast rules!"

North Words, running from June 2 to June 5, represents the stronghold of creative writing in Southeast, Donahue said. He cited the termination of the Sitka Symposium, which held its final annual meeting last year after 25 years.

"Hopefully the North Words Writers Symposium can pick up where they left off," he said. "If not, Southeast won't have a writing venue."

Donahue said that writers in a place like Alaska might be isolated in some ways, but that the cultural and historic nature of the region itself creates unique avenues to explore.

"It's more challenging the remoter the location," he said. "But isn't that part of the attraction to Alaska? I mean, just because something happened 100 or 200 years ago doesn't mean it's changed. That's one of the reasons for hosting this event. Reminding folks that our history, culture and future is still relevant today like it was years ago."

As far as Alaska as a whole, Donahue said the outlook for writers is good.

"Kachemak Bay's conference has an impeccable track record whose reputation is very, very good and growing," he said. "We're doing OK."

The Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference certainly seems to reflect this opinion. The various workshops scheduled from June 11 to 15 will include panels, readings, and workshops discussing fiction, nonfiction, poetry and "the business of writing." Celebrating its 11th year, the conference will have more than 130 writers in attendance, plus more who attend the public readings.

Among the presenters will be keynote speaker Michael Cunningham, the internationally renowned writer whose novel "The Hours" won the Pulitzer Prize. Juneau-based educator and poet Emily Wall will also be presenting.

Carol Swartz, director of UAA's Kenai Peninsula College Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer, described the writing scene in Alaska as "vibrant, diverse, expanding, complex, creative, changing, all genre."

The goal in putting together a conference like this is clear, Swartz said.

"To promote the intellectual and cultural life of Alaskans by providing aspiring writers, writers, students, literary enthusiasts and the general public with a collaborative opportunity to explore the art, process, and techniques of creative writing," she said.

Swartz said most of the writers come from nearby south central Alaska, but the conference also brings people from other parts of the state, and more than a dozen from the Lower 48. As is always true when writers gather anywhere, the objective is illuminating and expanding each other's worldviews in a collaborative effort.

"Alaskans from throughout Alaska gain new ideas and experience in the literary world of our state, as well as beyond its borders," she said. "We strive to provide this statewide, world-class, literary event and educational experience to a broad spectrum of Alaskans."

People interested in more information on the conferences can visit the groups' web sites, North Words at and Kachemak Bay at

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