2018 Residency Fellows Announced

Storyknife Writers Retreat received 97 applications for residencies during 2018. The selection committee was incredibly impressed by the quality of the work they received. It was difficult to narrow it down to the three writers who will have a chance to spend time devoted to their writing at Storyknife this year. We are so proud to announce the following three amazing writers are our 2018 Storyknife fellows. I hope you will join us in congratulating them!

sm_Ching-In_Cassie Mira Nicholson photographerChing-In Chen is the author of The Heart’s Traffic (Arktoi/Red Hen Press, 2009) and recombinant (Kelsey Street Press, 2017).They are a Kundiman, Lambda and Callaloo Fellow and a member of the Macondo and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundations writing communities. Chen is also the co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (South End Press, 2011; AK Press 2016) and Here Is a Pen: an Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets (Achiote Press, 2009). Their work has appeared in The Best American Experimental Writing, The &NOW Awards 3: The Best Innovative Writing, and Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics. A poetry editor of the Texas Review, they currently teach creative writing at Sam Houston State University. www.chinginchen.com

sm_Sharbari-6467Sharbari Ahmed’s fiction has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Asian Pacific American Journal, Catamaran, Caravan Magazine, Inroads, and Wasafiri among others and is forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly. She was on the writing team for Season One of the TV Series, “Quantico” on ABC. Most recently she wrote the screen adaptation of Mitali Perkin’s Middle Grade novel Rickshaw Girl. Her debut book The Ocean of Mrs. Nagai: Stories was released in November 2013 by Daily Star Books. She is a Tribeca All Access Fellow for her screenplay Raisins Not Virgins. She is on the faculty of the MFA program at Manhattanville College and the Film Television MA Program at Sacred Heart University. She was born in Bangladesh and raised in New York, Connecticut and Ethiopia and lives in Darien, CT.

sm_Headshot CLopezCasandra Lopez is a Chicana and California Indian (Cahuilla/Tongva/ Luiseño) writer who’s received support from CantoMundo, Bread Loaf and Jackstraw. She’s been selected for residencies with SAR and Hedgebrook. Her chapbook, Where Bullet Breaks was published by the Sequoyah National Research Center and her poetry collection Brother Bullet is forthcoming from University of Arizona press. She’s a founding editor of As Us  and teaches at Northwest Indian College.

A huge thank you to our amazing selection committee. We are so looking forward to this summer!


Sue’s Cabin

In December, beloved mystery writer, Sue Grafton passed away. A #1 New York Times-bestselling author, Sue Grafton published in twenty-eight countries and in twenty-six languages—including Estonian, Bulgarian, and Indonesian. Books in her alphabet series, beginning with A is for Alibi in 1982 and most recently, Y is for Yesterday, are international bestsellers with readership in the millions. Her 25 novels featuring the private eye Kinsey Millhone established the hard-boiled female detective as a viable alternative to the males who had dominated the genre.

From The Guardian on January 3, 2018, “Sue Grafton’s influence on writers was immense, not only through Millhone but also on a personal level. The crime writer Meg Gardiner, a big fan, said: ‘With every page I wished: Kinsey Millhone, be my friend. Beyond that [she] showed me how a female series heroine could work … I thought: Yes. Give me more. And let me learn to write fiction that aspires to be as good.’”

Dana Stabenow thought that a wonderful way to honor Sue’s dedication to the written word and women writers would be to raise the money to name a cabin at Storyknife Writers Retreat after her. At this time, the funds for the other five cabins have been pledged or donated. This is the last cabin to name (though we have many other opportunities to name a part of Storyknife after an inspirational woman in your life), and it would be fabulous to have it commemorate a writer whose strong heroine inspired so many.

To that end, we’ve set up a dedicated fundraising page to the campaign to raise $50,000 to name a cabin for Sue. If you are one of those millions who love Sue Grafton and Kinsey Millhone, please consider donating to help us reach the goal of building Sue’s Cabin, not just to honor her memory, but to provide a place for women writers to create their own novels, essays, and poems to inspire generations to come.

Donate here, and thank you for helping make Storyknife a reality for women writers everywhere. Please share with everyone who might want to take part.


One Cabin Left!

As of January 22, 2018, funding has been secured or pledged for five of the six cabins that will comprise the Storyknife Writers Retreat. Each of the cabins will be named for an Alaskan woman of distinction. There is one more cabin that is available for support. Donations in the amount of $50,000 give the funder naming privileges. If you think that you might like to name a cabin after a woman who has made an incredible impact in your life or the lives of others, now would be a good time to contact us!

Last May, the final funds for the main house were secured. Former Alaska Writer Laureate, Peggy Shumaker and her husband Joe Usibelli matched and doubled the donations of one hundred and twelve people. The main house will be named after Homer writer and poet, Eva Saulitis.

In its first two years of operation, Storyknife has been able to offer five women month-long residencies in which to devote their time solely to writing. When the entire residency is built, it will be able to offer at minimum 42 women residencies each year.

We are in the middle of the adjudication for this year’s residencies. There were 97 applications for 3 spaces! Every applicant has hopes and dreams for her writing. How we wish we could award time to all of them. Any help you can give us to cross the finish line at funding the entire infrastructure and building cost would be most joyously welcomed. And thank you again, to all of the people whose generosity has brought us this far!

The Storyknife Residency Challenge

tidal_smThis post was written by Ruby Hansen Murray, Storyknife’s September 2017 resident fellow.  All photographs taken by Ruby Hansen Murray. 

A solitary residency can be rough. Going to a new community alone is like throwing yourself into space, something the two eagles across from the post office may have felt, when they fledged on September 1st, the day my husband left me in Homer, Alaska. The Storyknife Residency that Dana Stabenow manifested is a writer’s dream: a month of unfettered time in a cabin that sits on a bluff on the Kenai Peninsula across Cook Inlet from Mt. Illiamna and Mt. Augustine, a Fuji-like cone, renamed by Captain Cook early on.

The cabin outside of town has a redwood deck, a lawn surrounded by a brushy meadow of fireweed turning red in autumn. Grass with beige seed heads, then fir and a scrubby spruce that screens a neighbor’s shingled house. My host’s house contains one square of golden light most evenings. The cabin has a living area with a microwave, a hot plate, a separate bedroom, each about seven feet square with a slant of high ceiling that gives a sense of space. A bookshelf in the living room of clean pine, a quilted wall hanging. The bedside lamp is sweep of green glass; there are pegs for my clothes. It’s simple and sufficient. The Big Dipper rises in the window over the bed.

bagel_smI’ve come to write, and I do. These are the weeks of hurricanes flooding Houston, slamming the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, sweeping Florida, and I speak with dear friends who live in that striking environment so unlike this one, but so similarly vulnerable to climate change. I am writing essays about the Osage homeland in the middle of the continent and organizing my novel with an emotional logic. But I’m also curious about the Kenai Peninsula where my husband’s family fished and which was the site of an early oil discovery in Alaska.

It’s also challenging to sit writing in Homer, because you can’t forget that sea otters are likely close to shore, that sand hill crane families glide onto the flats by Beluga Slough each evening.

otters_smA week into September, the tourist and fishing season is over. There’s the tug to experience the area—the aquamarine waters and white breakers along the spit or the textures and scale of the glaciers across Kachemak Bay, over and against the views from my desk. Whether I sit in the cabin or drive to town or walk the spit, I’m rewarded. Sunlight glistens on the fur of a black bear that passes and two moose check out the moose-proof cage the gardener wrapped around a high-bush cranberry just outside my window. For most of the month, whether I stay home or explore the world around Homer, I’m in a dream state. The place, the generous friends I make, the opportunity to spend this dedicated time are synergistic and powerful.

Create the Change You Want to See – #WomensVoicesMatter

create_change2Dear Friends of Storyknife,

We have all come so far in the last year, sometimes in amazing and sometimes in devastating ways. Here at Storyknife, we have raised almost half of what we need to build the physical part of a writers’ retreat for women. But Storyknife is not all about the buildings, not all about the volcanoes, nor the big Alaskan sky that stretches over this beautiful land. Storyknife is about supporting women’s voices and stories. The creation of new work and ideas is essential to cultural progress. Storyknife supports the work of women writers who have historically had fewer opportunities to devote time to their work.

In the past two years, five women have stayed in the Frederica cabin, warming it with their dreams and thoughts and words. They have written essays and short stories and poems, articles and blog posts. They’ve walked on the beach, listened to the constant ripple of the birds, drank coffee sitting on the front porch, and watched the sunset between the volcanoes. The expansive landscape of Storyknife fosters big thoughts and big dreams. Alaska gives women writers an opportunity to dream bigger, writer bigger.

But we can’t do it without your help. By supporting Storyknife, you are fostering the creation and eventual publication of articles, poems, novels, memoirs, and other writing that tells of women’s experiences. Our year-end fundraising goal is $20,000 towards running Storyknife during 2018 as we raise the last fund to build all six cabins and host three women writers in the Frederica cabin. Your donations keep the lights on, help us push forward with the capital campaign, support resident stipends, pay the property taxes, funds all the expenses that nonprofits like Storyknife have.

Storyknife is dedicated to supporting women at every stage of their career from a wide variety of backgrounds. We are committed to the voices of all women. Please consider a tax-deductible donation. We accept donations online at www.storyknife.org/support and via check at PO Box 75, Homer, AK 996503.

Thank you for your support. Remember, #WomensVoicesMatter.

Erin Hollowell

P.S. Starting at midnight on November 7, submissions for Storyknife residencies during 2018 will be open. Application here.

Some thoughts from our July fellow, Megan Donnelly

It was a friend who first found Storyknife. Only for women, he realized, and forwarded me the link. Repeatedly, he urged me to apply until I relented and submitted an application for a summer residency. There’s no way, I thought. There’s no way that I’ll be selected.

One month later, while my first grade students were at lunch, I got the email saying that I was one of four chosen applicants.

I panicked.

I ran down the hallway, keeping an eye out for the principal, to my friend’s classroom where he was working with a student.

“I got in,” I interrupted, eyes wide.

“I’m not surprised,” he answered. Looking toward his student, he added, “This is what a panic attack looks like.”

I walked back to my classroom, in shock, detached but intensely vulnerable. I didn’t reply to the email; that would have been too real. Instead, I decided to wait for the follow up email which was sure to start with: “We apologize for the email sent in error…”

What came instead was a phone call from poet and director of Storyknife, Erin Hollowell. In what I’m sure was a very awkward conversation, I told Erin that I would be there.

I dealt with my anxiety through action. I arranged for a rental car, booked tickets, and studied the little Frederica cabin pictured on the website. A little deck with a bright red plastic chair. A little writing area. A hot plate and a mini fridge. I tried to see myself there. I tried to see myself as a writer.

On July 1st, I flew from Utqiagvik to Anchorage and then Anchorage to Homer, landing at the airport just outside town. I got my luggage, picked up my aloe green rental car, and drove through the darkening skies to my temporary home where Dana Stabenow was waiting to greet me.

I spent the next 28 days living small, spending most of my time in the sturdy, little cabin, watching the weather change from the window. When the fog rolled in, I snuggled in the reading chair with a book and a blanket. When the fog rolled out, I sat writing longhand at the writing desk or clacking away at my computer keys. When I was hungry, I ate, and when I was tired, I slept. Every day, I wrote.

During my stay, Erin arranged for me to meet with renowned writers Tom Kizzia and Nancy Lord. They were both shockingly generous – they bought me lunch – and offered advice specific to writing in Alaska and more broadly on what it means to be a writer. It was my first insight to what it might be like to be part of a community of writers. So much of the work we do, we do alone. It’s easy to forget that there are others out there, people just like us.

In the months since my residency, I published an essay that I finished during my stay in the Frederica cabin, and I hope that it’s one of many published pieces that will develop during a Storyknife residency. But my 28 days in Homer helped me see that it’s not publishing and it’s not residencies that make one a writer. It is the act of writing, the act of alternately wrestling and coaxing words until they bear some semblance to the beautiful thing in your brain, the refusal to give up when the first (or fifth) iteration is born monstrous, the courage to return to the page again and again, that is what makes one a writer.

October Gifts

It’s October, which means that the Frederica Cabin is empty for the first time in four months. Since June 1, there has been a woman writer sitting at the desk, looking out at Mt. Iliamna, and writing her heart out.

Mairéad, Megan, Bea, and Ruby. Four gifted women who have been gifts for Dana and I this summer at Storyknife. And just this Friday, we received word of another gift. The Atwood Foundation has awarded Storyknife a grant for $50,000.00 to be used to build one of the cabins.

This cabin will be named after Evangeline Atwood, a third-generation Alaskan, who fought for statehood, organizing the group “Operation Statehood.” In 1950, she started the Anchorage League of Voters and then the Alaska Statehood Association, with a mission of bringing a favorable popular vote on statehood by informing the public of the pros and cons of territorial status vs. statehood. In addition to authoring seven books about Alaska, Evangeline was instrumental in establishing the Alaska World Affairs Council, the Parent-Teacher Council in Anchorage, and the Cook Inlet Historical Society.

One of the most difficult parts of running a nonprofit is asking for support. Sure, we believe in the mission; it’s pretty easy to tell you that we believe that women’s stories matter in the world, more than ever. We’re just starting out, and so we’re just developing the track record of putting our shoulders to the wheel to make that mission come true. So far, five women have had the opportunity to spend a month listening to the words bubble up under the vast Alaska skies. In the future, we will be hosting a minimum of 47 women each year. Think of the novels, poems, essays, stories around the dinner table, walks along the path that looks out over Iliamna. Season after season of women listening the sandhill cranes and rain on the roof, projecting their stories on the drift of fog off the ocean or the far snowy peaks of the Alaska Range.

This is what stands between us and putting Dana’s full vision of gift of Storyknife into the hands of all those women writers, money. We need to raise the $100,000 for two more cabins, and another $400,000 to put in the infrastructure, furnishings, and some site work. We need folks who are willing to commit to donating a bit each year that might pay the chef for her time making rhubarb cobbler, or for potatoes at the Farmer’s Market for the dinner table, or for electricity to keep that desk lamp burning into the early morning while the words spill out on the page.

We are so grateful that the Atwood Foundation will help us closer to helping women trust their stories and make the connections that will fuel their writing lives forever. Won’t you join us as well? You can be part of the Mount Iliamna Founders Circle, or you can be sustaining donor who gives just a bit each month (we can bill your credit card monthly), or you can give whatever is comfortable. There is no amount that won’t go directly into building and running Storyknife. You can be part of the vision where women’s stories matter.

A foundation of generosity…


Summer is slipping past us. At Storyknife, we’ve been hosting a new writer in residence each month. In June, Mairéad Byrne stayed in the Frederica cabin and drafted new poetry. July found Megan Donnelly there writing up a storm. Bea Chang drove up the Al-Can from Seattle for her residency in August. We have one more residency in September with Ruby Hansen Murray.

Needless to say, Dana and I have been busy. In addition to residents, we’ve been working with the folks who surveyed and staked out the building pads for the main house and the six cabins. Today, they are starting to put the driveway in and the infrastructure so that we can build next year. We’ve been writing grants and raising funds.

We are still glowing about the generosity of all people who donated to make Eva’s House a reality. After the fundraiser closed, we received a check in the mail from Thomas Clarke, a childhood friend of Eva’s. He understood that the donation-matching was over, but wanted to add his contribution to help in any way. We were so touched that we reached out to Thomas and his mother Sylvia to find out more about their connection with Eva.

Thomas wrote, “Eva and I attended school together, from kindergarten through graduating from Silver Creek Central High in 1981 together.  I cannot remember not knowing her!” He recounted that she was independent, thoughtful, unconventional, intelligent, nonconformist. This certainly sounds like the Eva we knew as an adult. He concluded, “Eva valued the old European values of family, honesty, loyalty and respect for others taught by her parents through the way they lived.”

Sylvia Clarke, Thomas’s mother, was good friends with Eva’s mother, Asja. She recalled, “Eva came back to Silver Creek to do a reading in our local library from one of her books.  I contacted the high school librarian who arranged for Eva to lecture to the creative writing classes while she was here.  We made a beautiful display of her works in the school library. The students loved her.  The evening reading in the public library was well attended.” Eva’s friends know of her enjoyment of making traditional Latvian bread. Sylvia wrote, “I learned to make their Latvian black bread with them (Eva and her sister, Mara) in their Mom’s kitchen.  Asja would always say ‘knead it harder, longer’ to Eva, Mara & me.  Their father said, ‘No one will need braces;  the black bread will make strong, straight teeth.’”

We hope that Eva’s spirit of generosity and respect for others will live on in the main house dedicated to her memory. Thank you Thomas for donating towards building it and to the one-hundred and ten other people who donated as well. And a most sincere thank you, again, to Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli for donating $2 for every $1 raised in that campaign. Because of the vision and benevolence of all you, Storyknife is moving forward.

We still have a ways to go, so if you want to join the amazing people listed on our “Support” page, please feel free to donate through Paypal or send a check. Even though summer is slipping through our hands, the foundation we’re building for Storyknife is solid, and we need your help!

PS. YES! That is earth-moving equipment on the Storyknife lot!!!!

Storyknife in the Washington Post

“When you’re ready to move from summer reading to summer writing”–Washington Post, June 8, 2017

writer retreats-1-final.jpeg


For women only

Men need not apply for Storyknife Writers Retreat, a program in Homer, Alaska, founded by mystery-novel powerhouse Dana Stabenow. For her, Storyknife is a way to repay a creative debt. Early in her career, she attended Hedgebrook Farm, a women-only writing retreat on Whidbey Island in Washington State.

Why women-only? “It’s still true that women are underrepresented in publishing,” Stabenow says. “It’s different when you’re just concentrating on women writers. There’s more of a focus. It’s a total removal from their ordinary, everyday life.”

Stabenow’s Storyknife, which is nonprofit, has raised money for three cabins so far, with a main house and three more cabins planned. Sixty-five people applied this year for four slots, one of which will be taken by a not-yet-published writer. Stabenow expects to host four writers again in 2018.

Cost/duration: Free (includes small stipend to defray transportation costs); one month.

To read in full, click here.

Eva’s House

Last year Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli came to us and said they wanted to name Storyknife’s main house for Eva Saulitis, teacher, poet and their friend, who died earlier that year. For every dollar donated toward the main house they would match it with two of theirs.

This month we received a donation from Nancy Nordhoff that completed our third of that amount. Last week Peggy and Joe sent us their matching check. Eva’s House is now fully funded.

Many, many Friends of Storyknife made this possible in many donations at many different levels. Here is the story of one.

“I’ve been following you and this creation of yours, and when you put Pam Houston on your advisory board, that was my first donation,” Macrina Fazio says.

Macrina served the state of Alaska in the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for 33 years. “To say that Macrina has had a large impact on the lives of all of her staff at this office would be an understatement,” says co-worker Angela Gray. “There was no send off we could do for her that would do her justice. “

Macrina announced her retirement in March. “I didn’t want a retirement party and they told me to get over it,” she says. When they asked her what she wanted for a gift, she said a donation to Storyknife.

“I started asking for donations and sharing information about your project with co-workers on April 18th,” says Angela.  “After Macrina shared her wish, she was no longer included in the planning process.  She did not know how much had been raised in her name until the day of her retirement party on April 27th.”



Macrina’s retirement party. That’s her in the middle in the glasses and the blue shirt.

Macrina’s co-workers collected a total of $700. With a wave of the Shumaker-Usibelli magic wand that $700 became a $2100 donation toward the construction of Eva’s House.

“We need to hear women’s voices,” Macrina says. “If there was ever a time that mattered, it’s now. And I’m a believer that we can all do something.”

She did, and so did Angela and the rest of her co-workers, and so did Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli, and so did Nancy Nordhoff, and so did everyone who donated to Eva’s House.

My heart is too full to say more. Thank you all so much.