Poet finds inspiration in adversity

Juneau woman draws on life's challenges in her creative writing

Posted: Monday, July 30, 2007

This morning, while many Juneau residents are still waking up, Burn Thompson will begin writing.

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She crafts rough drafts in her bedroom. Then she shifts to her living room and types the new material, be it confessional poetry or a line meant for a children's book. It's a daily ritual for a woman who led a weekly creative writing workshop this year at the downtown library.

A Juneau resident for 18 years, Thompson finds her inspiration in the beauty of the area - but also in the difficulties of her cerebral palsy. She pursued formal education in Virginia and Arizona, earning master's degrees in English and creative writing at Hollins University in Virginia and the University of Arizona.

But she also had the educational experience of being homeless in Alaska.

Thompson moved to Alaska in the late 1980s on advice from a creative writing teacher. She wanted to travel through Juneau and live in Fairbanks. Misfortune kept her in the Southeast. She was robbed of almost everything she owned when she arrived in the capital city.

Seeking the safety of an even smaller town, she rode a ferry to Yakutat.

"I met this other writer and this minister who was a friend of his, and they told me about the Glory Hole," Thompson said. "They got me a ferry ticket back here. I stayed at the Glory Hole for about a year. I lived out Thane, camping, for a year."

In the years that followed, she suffered through a moldy hotel rooms and over-priced apartments. She endured cataracts caused by the cerebral palsy she's had since the age of 3. Five decades of the disorder proved challenging, but she says she's used to it.

"It's just a way of life," she said. "Some of my poems are about having cerebral palsy. I've written some about being homeless."

She was able to buy a condominium with money from an inheritance and continue focusing on writing. She also bought a phone plan that gives her plenty of minutes for conversation with her brother in South Carolina and her niece and nephew.

She finished a book of poems and a children's book about a mermaid who learns to help others. She is looking for a publisher.

In the meantime, she is looking forward to launching more creative writing seminars soon. Most likely, they'll take place each Monday evening for about two hours starting sometime around Labor Day.

• Contact Ken Lewis at 523-2263 or ken.lewis@juneauempire.com.

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