A few words from Storyknife’s Inaugural Fellow – Kim Steutermann Rogers

Photo by Michael Armstrong for the Homer News

Photo by Michael Armstrong for the Homer News

She’d already given me a brief tour of Frederica cabin. Brief because the cabin is perfectly sized small. Brief because I sensed she did not want to intrude on what would be my writing space and home for the next month. Brief because I sensed something else going on. As she walked out the door and down the few steps to the gravel drive, author Dana Stabenow paused and said to me, “You’re a dream come true.”

Then, quickly, she turned and walked off, head down as if bracing for a stiff wind or readying for an overhead wave about to collide with the fishing boat on which she’d grown up. Or, maybe, simply to hide a big grin on her face.

Across the Cook Inlet, Mts. Douglas, Augustine, Iliamna, and Redoubt radiated in the dwindling Fall light.

I’ve been home a week now, and I still think about Dana’s words. In that moment, I understood the import of my arrival in Homer, Alaska. Sure, I’d been awarded a place to write; a place to sit and read; a place to photograph, if I chose. I’d been given a place with no expectations. No deadlines. No responsibilities. No requirements. But more than that, as the inaugural fellow of the great effort known as Storyknife Writers Retreat, I was given the opportunity to be someone else’s dream come true.

I didn’t expect that.

We’ve all heard the words before: You’re a dream come true. I may have said them this week at the post office as I juggled a couple boxes, a stack of mail, and a dog on a leash when a stranger saw my predicament and opened the door for me.

But this was different. Dana’s words had weight. They weren’t an exaggeration or a cliché. I understood in a new way my arrival at Storyknife. My very presence in Homer was the manifestation of an idea to provide women a place to write.

I was thinking about Dana’s words when I returned inside Frederica cabin to get settled. I unpacked my suitcase. I set out a box of books on my desk. Then, I unloaded some groceries I’d picked up on my five-hour drive down the spine of the Kenai Peninsula. Stashing cold goods in the refrigerator, I paused to take in a photograph hanging on the wall. The setting looked familiar, but the print was aged, making me think it had been made back in film days. I would examine that photograph many times as I stood scrambling eggs over a hotplate or awaiting water to boil for tea. But it wasn’t until my last night in Frederica cabin that I asked Dana about it. And, then, it was one of those I-shoulda-had-a-V-8 moments.

Because just like I’d suspected, the captured image hanging on the wall of a cabin in Homer, Alaska was taken in Hawai‘i. And not just any place in Hawai‘i. But a scenic view of Kaua‘i, the island on which I live. Of all the women from around the world who applied to be Storyknife’s inaugural fellow, the chosen one—me—would fly nearly eight hours and drive another five to find a photograph of a scene from practically her backyard.

There’s much I want to say about Alaska. I witnessed the moon come into its fullness—a harvest moon, super moon, and eclipse rolled into one. I watched fog roll in off the Pacific and erase my view of four volcanoes. I took note as clouds stretched like taffy and galloped like stallions and scowled like a mama bear in the woods, all in the course of a single afternoon. I ran outside when I heard the creaky hinged call of Sandhill cranes flying overhead. I felt spit drop from the sky as if it were a bed sheet hanging on clothes line and the wind were whipping remnant water droplets out of it. I remarked over trees throwing a dance party on their top floors. I grabbed my camera to capture an image of a young moose trotting through the yard, fifty feet from my desk. I woke in the middle of the night as green curtains of light billowed across the sky. I learned that when it’s foggy atop the bluff at Storyknife the sun is shining on the Homer Spit. I understood the saying, “When the fireweed goes to cotton, summer’s soon forgotten.” And I added interesting words to my lexicon, including termination dust, spit rats, and buttwhackers.

There’s much I want to say about my experience at Storyknife. The logjam of a story I’d been holding within me for more than 10 years loosened, each log more or less finding its place in alignment. At least, for now. I discovered that a writing space free of physical distractions also brought with it a head space free of mental distractions, allowing me to stay in my right brain, the creative side, for long stretches of time.

When I told a friend I was going to Alaska to write, his reaction was, “You can’t write in Hawai‘i?” And I was reminded how we live in a left-brain world. That is, a society dominated by analytical and logical thinking. Like his. Creativity, however, emanates from the right side of the brain. To use a popular metaphor—one that left-brainers can grok—what Storyknife offered me was an entre into what athlete’s call, “the zone.”

This became evident to me when I received a couple phone calls and emails that about wrecked my zone. It were as if my right brain of a mouse was happily going about its business, exploring the nooks and crannies of my subconscious, working behind the scenes, conjuring a crumb of an idea here and there when—WHAM—the mouse trap slammed shut with the arrival of an email from a magazine editor wanting some additional reporting made to a story I’d filed weeks prior. Or the rental car company called wanting me to “drop off” my car in exchange for another. “You want me to drive five hours—each way—to swap cars?”

It can take hours to wriggle out of the mousetrap and carry on. This became clear to me at Storyknife. Even with a few disruptions, I managed to stay in the zone long enough to produce 249 pages of a first draft of a manuscript, about three-quarters of a book.

There’s something else I want to say about my experience at Storyknife. Something else unexpected came with the distraction-free writing space. It was a sense of importance. There is no greater motivator in life than when someone says, “Good job.” Being awarded the one-month residency at Storyknife was like one super-sized pat on the back. I’d never before felt so recognized for my writing. It was a warm feeling, one that hung around me for days.

I also admit: There were times during my time in Frederica cabin when I fell into imposter syndrome—a feeling that my writing didn’t matter. That no one would be interested in it. But there was really nothing else for me to do, so I kept writing. Besides, Storyknife believed in me. The weight of Dana’s words propelled me forward.

Now that I am home, as I ease back into my every day life and our left-brain world, I want to play my part in seeing this dream continue. One way to do that, I realize is to continue writing, to finish my book. I may have cleared out of Frederica cabin at the end of September, but I carried Storyknife home with me. There may be a photograph of Kaua‘i in a cabin in Alaska, and now there is a photograph—many of them—of Alaska on the walls of my home and in my heart here on Kaua‘i.

Introducing Katrina Woolford Pearson

pearsonI have been having such a wonderful time introducing you to the amazing women who have banded together on our Advisory Council to help make Storyknife a reality. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Katrina Woolford Pearson, a women who get things done. She is a savvy businesswoman and fierce advocate for authentic storytelling and Alaskan writers. Plus, she’s kind and just plain fun. I’m so looking forward to all of the incredible ideas she’ll bring to Storyknife.

Katrina is a lifelong Alaskan and her roots in the state run from Tenakee Springs to Teller. She was born and raised in Juneau, her grandfather was a Fish & Wildlife Officer in the 1940s based out of Fairbanks, and her great-grandfather was a member of the Territorial Legislature representing Nome.

She has decades of experience in Alaska’s literary arts, as a bookseller, author events coordinator, and publicist, as well as serving on boards and committees including the Literacy Council of Alaska and the 49 Writers Board of Directors. Currently, Katrina serves as the Publications Chair for the Gastineau Channel Historical Society, a board member of the Friends of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, and an organizing faculty member and sponsor of the North Words Writers Symposium.

Katrina is the owner of two Juneau-based companies: Taku Graphics, an art and book distribution company and Shorefast Editions, an independent literary press.  As the publisher at Shorefast she has worked as both editor and consultant to some of Alaska’s most distinguished writers.

Introducing Sherry Simpson

simpson_sherry_webSherry Simpson connects people. Not just with her amazing writing, but with her open heart and through the various roles she has played in the Alaska writing community. She teaches writers. She encourages them. Her students speak of her rapturously glowing terms. Seriously. So when we put together a list of women we wanted to work with to make Storyknife a reality, of course Sherry’s name came up within the first moments. Because she’s just that kick-ass. Ask the bears.

Dominion Cover webSherry Simpson grew up in Juneau after her family moved there when she was seven. She earned a journalism degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and worked as a reporter and freelance writer for newspapers and public radio in Juneau, Fairbanks, and Anchorage for many years before returning to school for a MFA degree in creative writing. Her most recent book is Dominion of Bears: Living with Wildlife in Alaska, which won the 2015 John Burroughs Medal for a distinguished work of natural historyShe is also the author of two essay collections, The Accidental Explorer: Wayfinding in Alaska and The Way Winter Comes, the winner of the inaugural Chinook Literary Prize. Her work has also received the Andrés Berger Nonfiction Award and Sierra magazine’s Nature Writing Award. Her essays and articles have appeared in numerous journals, magazines, and anthologies. She teaches nonfiction writing in the Low-Residency MFA program at the University of Alaska Anchorage and in the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. She and her husband recently moved to rural New Mexico, where she enjoys saying for the first time in her life, “Oh, good, it’s raining.”

Introducing Kate Carroll de Gutes

kate_smIt’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t know that Kate Carroll de Gutes was a force of nature. Her directness, her kindness, her ability to see what needs to be done in a situation and then pitch in and do it. She’s already brought so much to Storyknife, and we are so excited that she’s agreed to be part of the Advisory Council.

Kate Carroll de Gutes’ book, Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, won the 2016 Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction and a 2016 Lambda Literary Award in Memoir. She is a wry observer and writer who started her career as a journalist and then got excited by new journalism which became creative nonfiction and is now called essay (personal, lyric, and otherwise). Kate writes on a wide range of topics, but her obsession seems to focus on sexuality and gender presentation, and living an authentic life.

Here’s an excerpt from her book, Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear:

I can’t remember if the lapels of the tuxedo jacket were crushed velvet or shiny satin, some of the details are simply lost to the degrading dendrites and failing synapses of time. It was a black jacket, however, even though it was 1982 and it could have easily been powder blue. The shirt was a classic tuxedo shirt, the buttons and bow tie permanently attached. You actually slid into the shirt back to front and secured it up the back with a bit of Velcro, the quicker to get the high school seniors in and out of the photo studio.

Still. Tuxedo.

This is how it felt to change from the black velvet drape to the tuxedo: it was like diving into a cool, mineral-laden river, the way water slides all silky over skin turned pink from too much July sun, the way a body moves with the current—slipping along seemingly languidly only to find itself much further downstream than expected.

Or it felt like this: like a sigh made at the end of a long day when at last you can crawl into your big, king-sized bed just made with clean, purple 600-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets—like a whisper across your tired body—the memory foam mattress a reminder of what soft is supposed to feel like.

It did not feel like sitting exposed on top of a whiterock mesa in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, the wind kicking up the fine grit of desert topsoil and the pulverized sandstone, exfoliating the fair Irish skin on my cheeks and neck, searing my eyes, worrying my chattering mind about melanomas and carcinomas and survival in this too-bright landscape. No, that’s what the velvet drape—off the shoulder, no pushup bra or pearls—felt like.

The way I remember it is that it didn’t occur to me NOT to wear a tuxedo for my senior portrait. I felt handsome not beautiful, dapper not sexy. Of course tuxedo rather than drape. Of course bow tie rather than earrings.

You can learn more about Kate and sign up to get an essay a week from her about grief, the drama of perimenopause and dating, riding bikes, and the joys and challenges of authentic living at www.katecarrolldegutes.com.

Introducing Carol Swartz


If you’re a writer in the state of Alaska, you are probably well aware of the indefatigable Carol Swartz because of the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference which she wrangles into magnificence each year. You might not know how influential she’s been in several nonprofits in Homer, or how she started out her work in Alaska in social work with women’s issues. Carol is just a force of nature, and it brings me great joy that she has agreed to be part of the Storyknife Advisory Council.

Carol has been the Director of UAA’s Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College since 1986, overseeing its many programs and services. As such, she is also the Director of the highly-acclaimed annual Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference. Previously, she was the founding Director of Haven House, Co-Director/Clinician of the initial local Community Mental Health Center and the Kenai Peninsula’s first Guardian ad Litem.

Carol is a member of several non-profit organizations including Kachemak Bay Rotary Club and has served on several area and statewide Boards of Directors. She was a co-founder of Bunnell Street Arts Center and served on its board for twenty years.  She has been a trustee of the Homer Foundation since it was formed in 1991.

In 2013 she was honored with the University of Alaska Meritorious Service Award, and in 2012 she received the  Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts and Humanities. Other recognitions include the 2009 Alaska Center for the Book “CLIA” Award and the 2009 Homer Woman of Distinction.

Introducing Hilary Morgan

Hilary MorganI hope you are all enjoying meeting the amazing women on the Storyknife Advisory Council. How inspiring is Hilary Morgan? Very inspiring. She’s an advocate for women, an incredible business person, and an award-winning songwriter. This woman can do anything!

Hilary A. Morgan is the CEO of YWCA Alaska. She is nationally recognized as a leader in the fields of homelessness, housing, diversity and women’s issues. No stranger to the for-profit world Morgan spent her younger years on Wall Street and founded several businesses, the latest being Resourceful Results, LLC, a program and systems architecture company specializing in transformational solutions to persistent social justice challenges with clients in New York, Washington, DC and Alaska. She currently is spearheading EconEquity, an initiative to eliminate the gender pay gap in Alaska by 2025.

Among her numerous awards and achievements are a Rockefeller Next Generation Leadership Fellowship, the Mayor’s Award for Public Service (Anchorage, AK), the Citizen of the Year Award by the National Social Workers Association and the YWCA/BP Alaska Woman of Achievement award. Morgan is also the author of Nuts and Bolts of Effective Task Force Development: An Analysis of a Community Task Force on Homelessness and producer of Homeward Bound, A Way to a Better Life. An accomplished musician and composer, Ms. Morgan is also a recipient of the APRN Song of the Year award and has released two albums, Follow Your Dreams and Friends Like You.

Introducing Debby Dahl Edwardson

Debby Dahl EdwardsonEvery week, we’ve been posting introductions to the amazing women on Storyknife’s Advisory Council, and every week the feedback is just so encouraging. We are glad that you think these women are top-notch; we think so, too! This week, we’d like to introduce you to Debby Dahl Edwardson. She sent us the following fabulous introduction, and we are so pleased that she’ll be helping us make Storyknife a reality.

I tell people I’m a late bloomer. I published my first book at the age of 50. I was 61 when my third book was named a finalist for the National Book Award. In truth, however, I’ve always been a writer. I was the kid who gave people poems and stories for presents. I was the English major who wrote stuff for hire. I returned to fiction later in life because fiction takes more time and a larger canvas than I was afforded as a younger woman.

I live at the Top of the World—Barrow—and am married into the Iñupiaq community. My husband George Edwardson and I have seven kids and nine grandchildren.

I used to count the years I’ve lived in Barrow, but now I simply say that I came here as a very young woman and have lived here ever since—nearly forty years. Most of the stories I write are set within an Iñupiaq cultural context. It is not the culture I was not born into but it is the one I belong to, the one that has become home to me as a human being and as an artist.

I write for young people because it’s an audience I love and respect. They have open minds and joyful hearts. As Madeline L’Engle once said, “If I have something that is too difficult for adults to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children.” Children will not tolerate navel gazing for the sake of navel gazing. They want a good story and they don’t care how holy you are or many starred reviews you’ve gotten or how many awards you’ve won. If you do not deliver the story, they will be the first to point out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

I like that about young readers.

My books have earned a number of stars and awards and have even been named to a few prestigious lists, but that’s not the point, is it?

EasyOMy birth family is Norwegian and I have lived in Norway and speak the language, as well, although it’s rather rusty these days. I came into my own as an artist on the island in northern Minnesota where I spent my summers as a child. I have recently started a writing retreat there for children’s writers called LoonSong. Because writing is a lonely profession and we need other writers once in a while. We need to be amongst our own tribe to regenerate ourselves. This is what I got when I attended Hedgebrook, what I am extending through LoonSong and what I look forward to being a part of with Storyknife.

I’ve worked in everything from waitressing to PR to journalism. I am currently teaching literature and history as an adjunct at Ilisagvik College and writing online at writers.com. I serve on the boards of the North Slope Borough School District, Ilisagvik College and the Alaska Association of School Boards.

Introducing Janie Leask

Janie Leask

My path crossed with Janie Leask’s almost immediately after she moved to Homer. She jumped into the community with both feet, and to be honest the first time I met her, I was completely blown away with her magnetism, strength, and power. She an innovator, a connector, and a strong advocate for the power of women. She’ll be an excellent addition to the Storyknife Advisory Council.

Janie’s life can be described by her favorite quote which defines the “Good Life” as “living in the place you belong, with the people you love, doing the ‘right work’ on purpose.”

Janie loves the spirit of community building. A lifelong Alaskan and a CIRI shareholder, she is Haida-Tsimshian and Irish-German and was raised in both Metlakatla and Anchorage. She has one son, David, who joined her in being formally adopted into the Tsimshian Eagle Clan where she received her Tsimshian name of Gytem Wilgoosk which means “person of wisdom.”

Janie started her career working as a clerk-typist at the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN). During her 15 years with AFN, she held various support positions before being elected President – a position she held for seven years. Following her tenure at AFN, she went on to work at National Bank of Alaska, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, and First Alaskans Institute.

Janie’s always believed in getting involved and giving back and over the years has served on local and statewide boards as well as co-chairing two gubernatorial campaigns. But it’s her work in furthering understanding between urban and rural Alaska that she’s most proud, especially the trips she helped organize to rural villages by members of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.

janie_and_fishJanie, and her husband Don, moved to Homer in 2013. They’re enjoying their new home and have spent time exploring Kachemak Bay, fishing for all species, and showing off their new community to friends and family. Don volunteers with local organizations cleaning up the trail system. Janie spends her days taking pictures, meeting friends for coffee, and playing Pickleball.

She currently serves on the board of Haven House, the local women’s shelter and keeps her finger on the pulse of statewide public policy issues. She truly is living the “Good Life.”

Introducing Peggy Shumaker

Shumaker photoPeggy Shumaker has been an integral part of the Alaska literary community for three decades. I dare say that there is not a writer in the state that she has not helped, even when they don’t know it. Her enthusiasm and generosity know no bounds. It is such a privilege to have her be part of the Storyknife Advisory Council.

Peggy Shumaker writes poetry and nonfiction. She’s putting together a new and selected collection of poems, Touching What’s Wild.  She edits the Boreal Books Series through Red Hen Press and the Alaska Literary Series with University of Alaska Press.  She’s been fortunate over the years to receive a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and recognition as the Artsmith Artist of the Year.  In 2014, The Rasmuson Foundation selected her as their Distinguished Artist.  She has served as Alaska State Writer Laureate.  Professor emerita from University of Alaska Fairbanks, she teaches now in the Rainier Writing Workshop.  She lives in Fairbanks with her beloved Joe Usibelli.  Please visit her website at www.peggyshumaker.com.

Excerpt from “Geology of Wonder” part of Sparks: A Conversation in Poems and Poetry, forthcoming in Touching What’s Wild and featured in the Alaska Quarterly Review.

Shaped by forces way underneath,
shaped gradually by grinding,
shaped over eons by rivers of ice,
shaped by wind, by rain, by eruption, by season
after season of snow, some melting, some packing down
evidence of how this mountain came to be
what it is this instant, how
this mountain changes each breath

Introducing Arlitia Jones


Sometimes you meet a person through her writing, and you just hold your breath and hope she is as incredible in person. I first met Arlitia through her poetry, but as our paths began to cross through the Alaska writing community, I was so happy to learn that she is an incredibly empathetic, generous person, just like her writing. We are so honored that she’s part of Storyknife’s Advisory Council.

A dramaturg in Seattle described Arlitia Jones’ work best when she said “None of her plays are like any of her other plays.” Her imagination is not a room she goes to in her head; rather it’s the whole journey on any path that takes her to a new place. She finds the kernel of story in a women’s running team training to the music of Verdi’s operas, the speechifying of Mother Jones, the legend of Butch Cassidy or the Spirit Photographers of the American Spiritualist Movement in the 19th century.

Jones, who lives in Anchorage, began as a poet. Her volume of poems The Bandsaw Riots won the Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Award from Bear Star Press in 2000. In the years that followed, the voices took over and she broadened into a playwright. Dialogue is fast poetry. Jones is a shameless eavesdropper. She’s a completely unreliable narrator, a world class exaggerator and has a memory like a torn screen–these are her best writerly traits and she incorporates them all to get at the truth. Make that: The Truth. Her latest play, Summerland, will receive its world premiere in January 2017 at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. She’s also the founding co-director of TossPot Productions in Anchorage and a member of the Dramatists Guild.

Mother Jones: You’re my guard, are you? Well aren’t I just the fool? Here I thought I was addressing my Maker, the Almighty Lord who’s got the power, if not the authority to keep me locked up in this jail, who has the power to say when I eat and when I shit, when I stand, when I sit, and who I speak to and who I don’t. Used to be before I was put in this jail I had the sun and the moon put up in the sky free for everyone by the King of Heaven and Earth and that’s how I knew when to wake up and when to go to sleep but now I got Lord Shatterprick telling me when to rise and when to fall and, if that don’t sound like someone who thinks he’s God, then I’m nothing but a little ol’ woman who don’t know sick ‘em! But I do know my constitutional rights! (Hellraiser)