As part of our efforts to expand 49 Writers activities to communities in rural Alaska, in spring 2013 we piloted literary weekends in Barrow and Kodiak. After the success of this project, made possible with funding from the Alaska Humanities Forum (AKHF) and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the involvement and support of local partners, 49 Writers secured another AKHF grant to offer an extended literary program in Southeast Alaska in September 2014, featuring Alaskan authors Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes.


Sherry SimpsonCombining our popular Crosscurrents on-stage conversation with a creative writing workshop, we are taking this program to Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Craig. The local partners who are collaborating on this project are the University of Alaska Southeast, Juneau Public Libraries, The Island Institute, Ketchikan Public Library, and Craig Public Library.
In Juneau, Sherry Simpson will also give a reading at Douglas Public Library. All events are free and open to the public, but online pre-registration is required for the writing workshops.

Our Featured Authors

Sherry Simpson (right) teaches creative nonfiction writing in the low-residency MFA program at at the University of Alaska Anchorage and in the Rainier Writing Program at Pacific Lutheran University. She is the author of Dominion of Bears: Living with Wildlife in Alaska and two essay collections, The Way Winter Comes and The Accidental Explorer. She grew up in Juneau after her family moved there when she was 7.

Ernestine HayesErnestine Hayes (left) is a member of the Kaagwaantaan clan of the Tlingit. She is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast. She is the author of Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir, which won the American Book Award. She lives in Juneau, where she was born and raised.

Crosscurrents with Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes
Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn: Cultural Appropriation in Alaskan Writing

Sept. 19, 7pm, Juneau: Evening at Egan, University of Alaska Southeast, Egan Lecture Hall
Sept. 22, 7pm, Sitka: Naa Kahidi Community House
Sept. 24, 7pm, Ketchikan: Ketchikan Public Library
Sept. 26, 7pm, Craig: Craig Public Library

Two respected Alaskan writers discuss cultural assumptions in Alaska literature and consider ways writers can learn to recognize and overcome their own assumptions when writing about people from a different culture. Writers Ernestine Hayes and Sherry Simpson draw from their own experiences to discuss what writers from a dominant culture must understand before writing about Alaska Native people, history, culture, and art.

Creative Writing Workshop with Sherry Simpson
Autogeography: Mapping Our Lives

Sept. 20, 1–4pm, Juneau: University of Alaska Southeast, Glacier View Room

“Knowing who you are is impossible without knowing where you are,” says writer Paul Shepard. What does it mean to live in a particular place? How does where you’re from shape who you are? Explore these questions and others through storytelling–visual and written–that connects self and place. Click here for free online registration.

Reading by Sherry Simpson
The Unseen Bear
Sept. 21, 3pm, Douglas: Douglas Public Library

Bears and humans have shared a long journey through time, but Alaska remains one of the few places where we still share natural, urban, and cultural landscapes with these complex animals. Yet the bears inhabiting our imaginations are profoundly different from the bears inhabiting our lives. Sherry Simpson will read from her latest book, Dominion of Bears, in a presentation that explores how bears have shaped our ideas about wilderness and Alaskan identity.

Creative Writing Workshop with Sherry Simpson and Ernestine Hayes
The Story and the Music: Fresh Approaches to Familiar Places

Sept. 23, 6–9pm, Sitka: Yaw Chapel, Sheldon Jackson Campus
Sept. 25, 6–9pm, Ketchikan: Ketchikan Public Library
Sept. 27, 9am–12pm, Craig: Craig Public Library

In this hands-on workshop you will practice techniques for bringing landscape alive on the page. We will brainstorm topics derived from personal experience, identify and draft important elements of story, and draw from oral traditions to make our writing pleasing to the ear. Click here for free online registration.


Alan Heathcock teaches writing workshop in Barrow

In February 2013 (not exactly spring in the Arctic) we had the opportunity to take Alan Heathcock (Volt) to Barrow, after he participated in the UAF Midnight Sun Visiting Writer Series in Fairbanks. Alan taught a morning workshop on “Five Things You Absolutely Must Do to Write a Great Story” and engaged in an “on-stage” conversation with local author Debby Dahl Edwardson (My Name is Not Easy) about “Writing on the Edge.” Finally, he gave a reading and craft talk, “Write I Write, Why We Write.”

Tuzzy Consortium Library staff hosted all three activities, and local writers and readers of all ages showed strong support for the project. The Top of the World might not be everyone’s destination of choice in the depths of winter but Alan embraced the experience with enthusiasm! Feedback from participants was positive too. “You have inspired me to pick up my pen again!” “I learned a lot and look forward to more workshops.” “Please continue inviting interesting writers to Barrow.”


In April, to coincide with the annual WhaleFest, we took Homer author Eva Saulitis (Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss among Vanishing Orcas) to Kodiak. Kodiak College library staff made the arrangements and Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge hosted the events at their visitor center.

Eva Saulitis and Sara Loewen at Kodiak Crosscurrents

The weekend kicked off with a workshop entitled “Hidden Alaska: Exploring Place at the Boundary between Poetry and Prose,” in which participants explored the details and stories hidden within the landscapes of their own lives. They loved Eva’s writing prompts and commented, “This should be an all-day event,” and “Wish it could be full immersion for a weekend.”

Later, Kodiak author Sara Loewen (Gaining Daylight: Life on Two Islands) joined Eva for a Crosscurrents conversation, “Where Minds Meets Heart: Turning Science into Art.” The program concluded with a reading and craft talk, “The Ghost in the Machine: What Poetry Taught me about Writing Non-Fiction,” at which Eva discussed how learning both genres can enhance our writing.

If you are interested in hosting a literary weekend in your community, please contact us.