Here we are, almost half-way through October. At Storyknife, that means first frost and lots of curious moose. 2020 hasn’t been the year any of us thought it would be. I thought that I’d be telling you of about all of the amazing writers who have been sitting at the desk in the Peggy Cabin or the Carol Cabin. The writers out by the pond watching the sandhill cranes and writing in their notebooks. The incredible meals at that beautiful dining room table, filled with talk of storylines and poems and new scripts.
That hasn’t happened. Yet. It will. Stay tuned, I’ll keep you in the loop.
Meanwhile, I figure that if you are reading this website, you are either a writer interested in a writing residency or you’re the kind of person who reads a lot and wants to support women and nonbinary writers. So, I have a favor.
As the light slips away and the cold buckles in, I want to gather together stories to share with you, through newsletters and social media. Will you send me one lovely paragraph that:
recommends a really good book by a woman or nonbinary writer, or
tells us about a woman or nonbinary writer that has made a difference in your writing or reading life, or
contains an inspiring quote by a woman writer, or
tells us about what your writing means to you.
If you’re a writer, include your website or social media account details.
During November, I’ll share some of what that you’ve sent. We’ll gather together around our own virtual campfire and talk about writing and reading.
Autumn has rolled into Storyknife, complete with rain, fog, and brilliant fields of fireweed. If you’re in Alaska, fall and winter can mean a respite from the manic seasons of spring and summer. We’re done with the endless light, the fishing and gardening and berry picking, and starting to move into the preserving, freezing, and storing portion of the year.
For a lot of us, this is the time when we catch up with our reading. Because most of us are staying safe by “hunkering down,” keeping to ourselves, and wearing our masks in public, there seems to be a lot more time to read this autumn. So, I’m going to take a moment this newsletter to remind you that you can support some of the writers who’ve already had an opportunity to stay at Storyknife, albeit in the Frederica Cabin before the rest of the cabins were built.
Start with Sharbari Zohra Ahmed’s short story “The Length in Six Strokes” in the New England Review. Then if you’re looking for a longer read, check out her debut novel Dust Under Her Feet, an historical novel about Calcutta in the 1940s under colonial rule.
Check out Ching-in Chen’s beautiful poem “Spell for Safe Passage” on the Poetry Foundation website. Their book of poetry recombinant is a work of material critique, philosophically jarring in its use of syntax, sound, the erasures held in the stillness of its whitespace that again and again mimic a historical registry.
You can read one of Casandra Lopez‘s poems “Hottest June” at the Academy of American Poets website and another one, “When I Was a Young Girl” in the About Place Journal. The poems in her full-length collection Brother Bullet confront her relationships with violence, grief, guilt, and ultimately, endurance.
At the August board meeting, the Storyknife Board gained two new board members and said thank you to two board members that are leaving the board. The Storyknife Board and staff are incredibly grateful to founding Board members Pati Crofut and Jeannie Penney. Starting a nonprofit and raising funds to build six cabins and a main house of a writing retreat is not easy. Pati and Jeannie have been invaluable supporters since Dana began to consider the idea of Storyknife. We know that they’ll always be part of the story of Storyknife and they continue to be cherished members of our community.
Joining the Storyknife Board at this time are two new members who bring a myriad of valuable experience and enthusiasm. Take a moment to learn a little bit about them.
Patrice Krant and her husband sold their house in Atlanta upon her retirement from The Coca-Cola Company, and became full-time RVers with plans to tour America. Their first destination was Alaska, arriving in April of 2012. They are still here. (If you live in Alaska, you understand.)
Patrice was raised largely in New England, and has a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Maine, as well as an MBA from Georgia State University. Her career path was haphazard at best. As examples, she was the first female full-time firefighter/EMT in Maine, the sales director for a trucking software company, and The Coca-Cola Company’s global procurement executive for all ingredients.
An avid quilter (delighted to have two of her quilts hanging at Storyknife), incessant traveler (pre COVID-19), and nascent gardener, Patrice also enjoys philanthropy, and is a founding member of the Homer chapter of 100 Women Who Care. Her board experience includes the president’s Board of Visitors at the University of Maine, the University of Maine Foundation, and the Pratt Museum.
Amy Tannahill is a lifelong Alaskan with ten years’ experience in marketing and communications and program and project management. Currently working for the Alaska Forum, an environmental education-based nonprofit in Alaska, Amy serves as the Communications and Events Director. Prior to joining the Alaska Forum, Amy spent 7 years working in the Marketing Department of First National Bank Alaska.In her free time, Amy enjoys spending time in the great Alaska outdoors and enjoying a good book by a campfire, lake or river.
No really. How are you doing? If you are reading these newsletters, I am assuming that you are either a woman or nonbinary writer or someone who supports the work of women and nonbinary writers. In other words, I assume you are the kind of person who cares and pays attention to the world. A person who may in this time be suffering the sadness and anxiety of a worldwide pandemic. A person who cares about the freedom and safety of Black lives. A person who looks toward our shared stories to find compassion and empathy.
So, you might be, as the kids say, “all in your feelings.” I am, too. I spend time at Storyknife and am sad that it is not filled with the sounds of keyboard tapping, pen scratching, story-telling and community. I was looking forward to identifying the sandhill cranes that have been mustering overhead and the spruce grouse family ducking into the weeds along the trail. To explaining that now that the fireweed is reaching the top of its blossoms that someday soon, Storyknife will be adrift with the snow of its seeds. And then later in October, perhaps rejoicing with the women writers that frost has come and set the whole field to shining.
It’s my job to make sure that Storyknife is ready for the very moment that we can open safely. Part of that job is to take care of the physical manifestation of Storyknife – see that the yard is mown, check the buildings, water system, label the artwork. Part of that job is building selection, outreach, and operation procedures that are equitable and actually support the often marginalized voices of women, especially women of color, Alaska Native and Indigenous women. Part of that job is making sure that everyone who supports Storyknife knows that they (YOU!) are an important part of the community of Storyknife. And part of that job is securing the funds that keep the electricity flowing, the heat on, the gardeners (and wasp nest exterminators) working.
So I’m going to ask a couple of questions:
If you are a woman or nonbinary writer, how can Storyknife help support your writing practice in this time when residencies are not possible?
There are so many people to thank for their time, their donations, their artwork, their good wishes, their hard effort. Please know that you are all part of the Storyknife community and we could have never done it without all of you. The graphic below contains all of the donors who gave to build Storyknife. Since then, we’ve had folks purchase items from gift lists, donate artwork, gardening, quilts, pottery. It’s truly taken so many hands to build this place. Thank you.
As we head toward our live stream Open House, we’re putting all the finishing touches on the Storyknife facilities. Today, Dave Gerard (of Gerard Houseworks and Homer Alaska Countertops) installed the signs for each of the cabins and Eva’s House.
The first one you’ll notice as you come to Storyknife is above the door to Eva’s House. This is a lovely piece of local birch that remained after the custom table for the house was completed. Dave finished it with an orca to acknowledge Eva’s deep relationship with the Prince William Sound orca pods, as well as her love of the nature in the Homer area. Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli, along with over 217 other individual donors sponsored Eva’s House.
Deborah McNeil and the Plumb, Level, and Square Fund sponsored the library in Eva’s House and named it for founder Dana Stabenow. For more information about the Storyknife depicted on this sign and the origin of the name for Storyknife, please read about it here.
On the furthest left facing the ocean is the Carol Cabin, named for Carol Murkowski Sturgulewski and sponsored by her mother-in-law Arliss Sturgulewski. Carol is a writer and very involved in many literary organizations in Alaska, including the Alaska Center for the Book. Her sign features a dashing writing quill as a nod to her work as a writer.
The middle cabin on the left side is the Betty Cabin, named for Betty Ann Rice and sponsored by her daughter Jeannie Penney. Jeannie told us that her mother was a great reader and loved red peonies. The sign for this cabin sure has the flare of those red flowers.
The cabin nearest Eva’s House on the left side is the Diana Cabin, named for Diana Tillion and sponsored by Cathryn Rasmuson. For this special sign, artist Dave Gerard reproduced images from Diana’s own children’s books that featured her own children. Nestled in a porthole, this sign reflects Diana’s great love of the nature of Halibut Cove.
On the right side of Eva’s House is the Evangeline Cabin, named for Evangeline Atwood and sponsored by the Atwood Foundation. This sign is created by Dan Gerard and features the Alaskan flag to honor Evangeline’s work as a historian and founder of many great Alaskan institutions.
The middle cabin on the right side is the Peggy Cabin, named after Peggy Shumaker and sponsored by her many friends, students, and admirers. Peggy is a teacher and poet who has touched the lives of so many Alaska writers, it would be impossible to count. Her sign pays homage to the two deserts she hails from, the Sonoran desert where she grew up and the subarctic desert of interior Alaska in Fairbanks where she lives much of the year. In the middle of these two beloved landscapes are her books.
The cabin furthest out toward the pond and walking trails on the right side is the Katie Cabin, named for Katie Fox Vinberg Kashevarof and sponsored by Katherine Gottlieb, Southcentral Foundation, Carl Marrs, and the Old Harbor Native Corporation. Katie’s sign features the 108 foot crab vessel that bears her name and an Allutiq headdress and Russian church to signify her heritage.
We’re looking forward to showing you more of Storyknife at 1pm Alaska Time on Friday, June 19th during our Live Stream Open House on Facebook.
On May 4th last year, on a very brisk day (a little like today only sunnier), we watched as Dana sank the ceremonial shovel into the dirt and broke ground to build Storyknife.
And then the flurry began! So many days of digging and hammering, the whine of the chop saw and the bark of Rex, the site dog. And now we’re on the other end. Complete. All of the furniture in place, the tiny plants that were lovingly put in place last year sending up tiny shoots.
The applications came flooding in, the adjudication panel read for many evenings, the residents were chosen. Funders like the Rasmuson Foundation, the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, the Atwood Foundation, the Southcentral Foundation and SO MANY individuals opened their hearts and wallets to support Storyknife.
So, in a world of COVID-19, we’ve had to postpone a few residencies, but Storyknife still stands ready. Just one year to turn Dana’s dream into a reality. You are all part of that process: your good energy, your positivity, your “likes” on social media, have given all of us the lift we need to fly this wonderful place.
On Friday, June 16th, we’ll livestream our “Grand Opening,” and we hope you’ll join us. (Don’t worry, I’ll remind you a couple more times). Meanwhile, look at the pictures, and be ready for the alchemy that is going to occur when those first women writers cross the threshold of Eva’s House and they know that for the next two to four weeks, they’re home where their writing and their dreams come first.
If you’ve been reading this website for more than few months, you’ll have watched as Storyknife sprung from the dirt. In fact we’re a little more than two weeks away from May 4th, the one-year anniversary of the groundbreaking at Storyknife.
In one year, what was a dream and a set of building plans has become a women writers residency – six completed cabins and the main house. Built, finished, furnished, and now decorated. All along the way, the Storyknife community has helped out, by cheering us on, by donating needed operational funding, by purchasing from gift lists, and by donating time and talent to the dream. The plan was to get the place built in one year and women in residence by now; in fact, we thought we’d do it in eleven months with our first residency session in April. But even though our contractor Scott Bauer and his amazing crew came through, the world had something else in store for all of us.
So, Storyknife waits and dreams. Maura plans meals and shopping trips. I get linens ready, oversee the installation of the wifi, write development plans and emergency plans and operational plans. Patrice Krant and her husband Rick Rosenbloom hang the wall quilts in each cabin. Snow melts and the gardens get ready to green up.
This week, even though there is still a little snow on the deck and yard, I put together a deck chair. It was about 1pm when I finished, and I sat myself down and looked out. I tried to imagine that I had just finished my lunch and was preparing to go back to my cabin to spend the afternoon finishing my manuscript. There were varied thrushes down the hill calling to one another and meltwater dripping from the deck boards.
Here at Storyknife we’ve made several difficult decisions – the most heartbreaking has been to postpone the April-June residencies. Those writers will be given the opportunity to reserve a spot in next year’s residency schedule. To a one, they’ve all be understanding. Disappointed, but understanding and affirming. For Dana and I, it’s been disappointing to see the dream wait, BUT it has been critically important to do what’s best for the writers of Storyknife and our community. We must all stay safe. We must stay united in keeping physical distancing procedures in place in order to protect the most vulnerable people. We believe that every story is important, and so we want to shelter everyone.
I truly hope that this finds you and your family and friends safe and well. One of the parts of Storyknife that neither Dana nor I could have ever predicted is the generous and amazing community that has formed around it. We’re grateful for all of you and so please stay safe. We’ll be here for women writers when these troubles pass, and we want all of you to be here, too.
Take care, Erin Hollowell Storyknife Executive Director