Storyknife Awarded Tier II Grant by the Rasmuson Foundation


We are pleased to announce that Storyknife Writers Retreat has been awarded a $400,000.00 Tier II Grant by the Rasmuson Foundation. Storyknife has been fundraising for the past two years to build a women writers’ retreat in Homer, Alaska, and the generosity of the Rasmuson Foundation will allow us to go forward with construction in the spring of 2019. The entire facility will consist of six cabins and a main house that is slated to open for residencies in April of 2020.

Storyknife seeks to create an environment of caring and hospitality that will provide the bedrock upon which women writers can feel secure in exploring difficult, experimental, and engaging work. By providing women writers with a place that is beautiful, thoughtfully constructed, and nurturing, Storyknife fosters a level or respect (cultural and personal) for each woman and her creative process. When completed, Storyknife will host six women each month for seven months each year, expanding to year-around operation by the year 2028.

The vision of author Dana Stabenow, Storyknife seeks to support women writers by providing uninterrupted time for development of their craft. In 1989, Stabenow received a residency at Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island in Washington. The profound impact of that residency, and the fact that Hedgebrook receives many more applications than they have spots to host writers, inspired her to develop a similar opportunity for women writers.

The Rasmuson Foundation was created in May 1955 by Jenny Rasmuson to honor her late husband “E.A.” Rasmuson. Through grantmaking and initiatives, the Foundation aims to promote a better life for all Alaskans. At its biannual meeting this November, the Rasmuson Foundation board of directors approved more than $6.5 million in awards. The investments are aimed at communities from Unalakleet to Sitka.

Please join us in expressing our gratitude to the Rasmuson Foundation for their support of women’s stories and women writers.

Announcing Katie’s cabin

Katie with her great-great grandson Scotty

Storyknife is delighted to announce that thanks to a successful fund-raising campaign by Katherine Gottlieb, Southcentral Foundation, Carl Marrs, and the Old Harbor Native Corporation, Storyknife’s fifth cabin will be named for Katherine “Katie” Fox Vinberg Kashevarof, late of Seldovia, Alaska.

Katie was born in 1906 and raised in Unga and Unalaska, the eldest of five siblings. She survived the 1920 influenza pandemic which wiped out entire villages in Alaska, the 1942 bombing of Unalaska by the Japanese which destroyed her family home, and the resettlement of the Aluutiq peoples during and following the war, going on to become the mother of ten by birth and double that number by marriage. Her family estimates that “At last count, the descendants including grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren totaled more than seventy-four.”

During 1948 through 1950, Katie owned and operated a restaurant and bakery at Unalaska called “Kate’s Kozy Kitchen.” She had some great recipes for bakery goods. Her grandaughter Crystal writes, “I put her doughnut recipe in the Chamberʼs Seldovia cookbook – try it sometime. It makes ninety doughnuts, and is delicious.”

Katie moved to Seldovia in 1951, where the children grew up and attended school. She worked for many years for Mr. Morris and then Dick Inglima in Morris General Store. She worked also for the Sutterlin & Wendt shrimp plant, the salmon cannery, and Wakefield Seafoods crab processor in Seldovia. She enjoyed cooking, knitting and crocheting, and caring for family and grand children.

In 1975, local fishermen Jack Parks and Bob Ringstad named a 108-foot crab vessel for Katie, the Katie K, and Katie went to Seattle to christen it. The boatʼs owners said they hoped the “boat will be as prolific in producing crab as its namesake has been in producing children and grandchildren.”

Her family writes, “Family was very important to her, and she loved to visit and be visited by family and grandchildren. Her mind ever sharp, she could remember events from the past with ease, and loved to pass on the tales of days gone by. She is remembered with love, and will be missed.”

Storyknife’s founder, Dana Stabenow, says, “I speak for the board when I say we are beyond thrilled and honored to have our fifth cabin named for Katie. With her as one of our guiding spirits, we can’t go wrong.”

What Will You Give? #GivingTuesday

dinner table
From the dinner table…

Oh this time of year with its Black Friday, its Cyber Monday. All the ways that holidays have been co-opted to be about consumption, buying and buying more. And yet, sometimes it feels as if even when we’re surrounded by stuff, we’re empty.

And now Giving Tuesday. About five years ago, my family decided that our holiday tradition of gift-giving wasn’t very satisfying. Instead, we decided we’d donate in each other’s names to charities that mean something to each of us. For my sister who volunteers in a soup kitchen, a donation to the organization that runs it. For my brother, a donation to Michael J. Fox’s Foundation. And for me, a donation to Storyknife.

I’ve noticed that Storyknife isn’t the only nonprofit vying for your #GivingTuesday dollars. In fact, when I opened my email this Monday, there were no fewer than a dozen other good causes asking for my support.

Here’s the deal – I hope you’ll donate to Storyknife, either on Giving Tuesday or any other day until the end of this year. Our incredible matching donor, Nancy Nordhoff, founder and benefactor of Hedgebrook, isn’t limiting her largesse to one day.

I hope that you’ll give, not because we pestered you into it, but because you really believe in the vision that women writers deserve to have their work fostered, respected, elevated. And believe that Storyknife intends to do just that – has already done so with the eight amazing fellows we’ve hosted already. I think of the writing by women that has lifted me up when I felt like no one understood, Virgina Woolf, Annie Dillard, Toni Morrison, Jane Hirshfield, Barbara Kingsolver, Octavia Butler, Alice Hoffman, Ursula Le Guin, Mary Oliver, Terry Tempest Williams… I could keep listing for a long time.

So if a woman writer ever lifted you up, if your mother or auntie gave you a little faith in your story, if you are one of those women writers who cram your writing in between small children, errands, laundry, and sleep, consider donating to Storyknife as an investment.

I sometimes stand on the Storyknife property and look out at the mountains, imagining lighting the candles at dinner for six women writers who will change the world, month after month after month. Your donation is the match that lights that fire.

Take a look around

Let me take you on a little tour of Storyknife.
On the right hand side of the above photo, you can see the road leading to Storyknife. On the left hand side, you can see where the road will end and Eva’s House, the main house of Storyknife, will be built. And yeah, in the background, some seriously charismatic mountains just over Cook Inlet. That’s what the women writers at Storyknife will be looking at from their cabins, from the dinner table, from their desks.


This will be the view from the three cabins on the left side of the main house as you face the inlet. Nice, huh? It’ll be a little greener in the spring and summer.


This will be the view from the cabins on the right-hand side of Eva’s House. It wasn’t even a perfectly clear day, but I want you to envision it.

If you follow us on Facebook, you might have seen posts about all the people for whom we are grateful – supporters, fellows, our founder Dana Stabenow, and now, the land itself that will provide a place for women writers to pursue their craft and build a community that will continue to branch outward. We’d like to take this moment to thank you, individuals who are interested in Storyknife, who are interested in writing, in supporting women’s voices. We’re grateful to be building Storyknife with you.

Remember, donations until the end of the year are being matched by Nancy Nordhoff, founder and benefactor of Hedgebrook. Every donation puts us that much closer to providing a place to honor and nurture women writers. We really want to break ground in April 2019, and with your help, we can.

Storyknife’s Wellspring

Spring-waterA few weeks ago, I wrote to tell you how board member Katherine Gottlieb inspired Storyknife founder Dana Stabenow to apply to Hedgebrook and gifted her with the Storyknife that inspired our name. In so many ways, Katherine has been a wellspring for Storyknife. When Deborah McNeil offered to donate $25,000 for the well and water distribution system for Storyknife and dedicate it to Katherine, we could think of nothing more appropriate.

plumblevelsquare_smDeborah is the manager of the Plumb, Level, and Square fund that was created to honor her husband Tim McNeil and his mother Dorothy. As Deborah passed along to us: Plumb, level, square. Three words describing carpentry, and three words describing both the character and lives of Dorothy McNeil and her son, Tim McNeil. Plumb, because they were upright and experienced life fully; Level, because they lived truthful lives; and Square, because they were fair, honest, and direct people.

gottlieb_smStoryknife is beyond grateful for the support of Deborah and the Plumb, Level, and Square fund. The opportunity to honor Katherine Gottlieb in this way is incredibly special. Katherine has not just inspired and supported Dana’s dreams, but so many people in the state of Alaska through her role as President and CEO of Southcentral Foundation, the non-profit health arm of Cook Inlet Region, Inc., not to mention her participation as a CIRI shareholder, Old Harbor tribal member, and Seldovia tribal member.

We are now two weeks into our eight week end-of-year fundraising campaign. Plumb, Level, and Square’s donation has certainly put some gas in our tank, as well as the generosity of other folks who have wanted to take advantage of Nancy Nordhoff’s offer to match all donations to Storyknife until the end of the year. Remember, in your year-end giving, if you donate before 1/1/19, your donation will go twice as far. There are also still opportunities to memorialize an important person with your donation.

Every donation puts us that much closer to providing a place to honor and nurture women writers. We really want to break ground in April 2019, and with your help, we can. We are grateful, so very grateful, for all of you generous people. Thank you!

Unfurling Again, by Ching-In Chen

June’s Storyknife fellow, Ching-In Chen sent us this beautiful zuihitsu* in response to their time in residence. We are so pleased to share it with you.


Unfurling Again: revisiting a zuihitsu

          Arriving again three plane rides and time zones away at a practice I return to – patience when there is no one else but me to wait for. In another landscape of air, horizon of blue, I unpeel my wintertime selves, cram myself full of light.


         From another time and place, Arthur Sze on a collaboration with Susan York, The Unfolding Center:  “Yes, there’s a lot of what I consider breathing tides; inhaling, exhaling, the physicality of breath and the turning points …”

         I didn’t know it, but my earlier self had planned a pause – a breath from my post-hurricane headaches, ever-advancing tension.


The writer’s conference, greedy with words, watching myself turn in another life.

         Build fragments, small migrations of pen. Watching window, adapting through forest, an ear out as I learn about plants.

A new friend calls and says walk, so I walk on stones and listen for seepage. In the wind, we talk and secret, make private adventures. I cultivate a habit of visiting.

         Listen for sun through the windowpane of a not-present woman’s house. Search anyway for her imprint, her breath recorded in condensed walls.

I am looking to make a routine ritual, even if only temporary, even to say, I have a home, a small temporary one, space for expansive dreaming, for measuring my own breath.


         Leap. But I am not doing it. This is where the fight begins – a familiar dance visits whenever I gain access to a small sleeve of time. All my wintertime selves rush in from their corners and duties, turn their backs to me, shut their mouths down at the corner. I leave them their space, escape to the library, waiting for crosshatch escape words to stack into a route.

         There is one behind the library, hatched with a short bit of story. I follow until it rains, and turn down a new path, looking for the next page to turn.


Visiting ocean, I walk to sand, touch a starfish, memorize texture. I lift myself high and lose a field. As an afterthought, I send someone beloved my location in case. I cannot say it is not a pleasurable time, a churn into deep excavation. A layer of muscle and letting go.

         I stretch my own day, my own body. Climb to see a field of ice, intimate array when it starts to dusky rain. Behind me, a man – pilot – carries song like a passport, protection against large creatures, lantern spiraling down through stone.


         In another time and place, I chastise myself: Sitting with myself, the practice of it, and nowhere to hide. Contending with my own creatures. Inviting old friends, those daily mutants, granting them tiny gifts to battle on page.


These same writing questions from the corner. And the daily process, practice of answer.


*If you are unfamiliar with the form, zuihitsu is a genre of Japanese literature consisting of loosely connected personal essays and fragmented ideas that typically respond to the author’s surroundings. The name is derived from two Kanji meaning “at will” and “pen.”


We are proud to announce a new board member, Pearl Kiyawn Brower

brower_webIt is with great pleasure that we introduce you to Dr. Pearl Brower, our newest board member at Storyknife. We are growing! Dr. Brower is currently the President of Iḷisaġvik College, Alaska’s only Tribal College.  She has been with the College since 2007 working in External Relations, Institutional Advancement, Student Services, and Marketing. She has served as President since 2012. Prior to working for the College Dr. Brower managed an education and culture grant for the North Slope Borough for three years and worked as the Museum Curator of the Iñupiat Heritage Center.

Dr. Brower grew up in both Barrow, Alaska and in northern California practicing a subsistence lifestyle in both areas.  She has a daughter, Isla, who is 6 and along with her husband, Jesse Darling, lives in Barrow, Alaska where she loves to be close to her culture and community. Brower was named one of Alaska’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2015.

Dr. Brower is active in her community in Barrow, on the North Slope and statewide.  She is Board Member of the Friends of Tuzzy Library and is a co-founder of Leadership:Barrow.  She serves on the Wells Fargo Community Advisory Board, serves as the Vocational/Tribal representative on the Alaska Postsecondary Access and Completion Network, serves on the Alaska Airlines Community Advisory Board, on the Foraker Group’s Operations Board, as a Commissioner for the State of Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, and is the Chair of the Advisory Board for the Tribal College Journal.

She holds a B.A. Anthropology and B.A. Alaska Native Studies from University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2004, a Masters in Alaska Native and Rural Development from University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2010, and a  Ph.D. in Indigenous Studies, with an emphasis in Indigenous Leadership from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, of May 2016.

Welcome, Dr. Brower!

We are proud to announce a new board member, Katherine Gottlieb

gottlieb_smWe are proud to announce that Katherine Gottlieb is the newest member of Storyknife’s Board of Directors. Prior, she was a member of our advisory council. She has been part of Storyknife’s history even before the actual organization came into being.

Katherine Gottlieb is President and CEO of Southcentral Foundation, the non-profit health arm of Cook Inlet Region, Inc. Visiting Scientist at Harvard University. MacArthur Award recipient. CIRI shareholder, Old Harbor tribal member, Seldovia tribal member, mother of six and grandmother to many more.

In the spring of 1988, the Anchorage Daily News ran a story about a retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island in Washington state called Hedgebrook. Dana Stabenow read it and thought, How wonderful for some lucky writer. Katherine read it and called Dana and said, “You should apply for that.” Dana said, “Are you crazy? They’d never take me.” Katherine called again the next day and said, “Did you apply?” And the next day. And the next day. Her diligence worked, because Dana applied, was accepted, and became one of Hedgebrook’s first residents in October 1988.

In 1993, Dana Stabenow’s first Kate Shugak novel (Fun fact: Shugak is Katherine’s mom’s maiden name) was nominated for an Edgar Award. Katherine went to New York City to accompany Dana at the awards ceremony. Before they went downstairs to the banquet, she gave Dana an ivory storyknife brooch which Dana wore onstage when she won. Hedgebrook, to which Katherine nagged Dana to apply, was the inspiration for Storyknife, and, with her gift of that brooch, she named it, too. It seems only a natural progression of events that she is now a member of Storyknife’s Board of Directors and we are so honored to work with her.

Writing with no expectations

We are grateful for this blog post by July’s fellow, Sharbari Ahmed:

IMG_4648“Sometimes having no expectations is the best way to approach the unknown. That is how I traveled to Homer, and the Storyknife Residency; an overpacked suitcase (I wore the same pants every day for two weeks, fancy skinny jeans were left untouched) and light on expectation. As a result, I experienced an abundance of riches. I didn’t even think about Homer’s inevitable beauty before I got there. I wanted to be awed, surprised even, and I was. The three volcanoes outside my window put things into perspective very quickly. If I needed any more reminding of my personal insignificance it was ready and waiting for me the moment I saw the mountains and the water. I had to shed the notion that I was somehow indulging myself by getting lost in Alaska for 14 days to focus on me and the story I wanted to write. That lingered a bit too long, three days to be exact, and is a by product of being a mother and a woman. The center was not going to collapse because I was in my cabin writing and minding my own business. This understanding was just as important as the 21,000 words I wrote in two weeks. The cabin, the water, mountains, wildflowers I bought at the Farmer’s Market, Erin and Dana all gave me permission to be. Yes, I needed that permission, even though I have been writing for half my life and producing work that sees publication. Everything is slower in Homer and people smile at you, make eye contact. Dana introduced me to locals and people were naturally warm. Even though I was alone most of the time, I didn’t feel alone. But I felt space, I felt my chest expand.

IMG_4696Back to my smallness in the face of natural beauty and the wildness of things: it’s good, it’s necessary for me to be reminded of it, so I can create. I kayaked on the bay and was exhausted by the end of it, but my lungs were filled with fresh salt air and the next day I sat down and wrote a chapter that I am proud of. I was the straggler in the kayak group. It was rainy and cold, and the currents were strong, and I couldn’t get a good picture of a cheeky baby otter, and once again, my smallness hit me IMG_4694in the face, along with the salt water and how short my arms were. And then I felt it, something I had not felt in decades, peace. Everything around me was saying, it’s going to be ok. Whatever “it” was.  It didn’t last. I came back to reality, however I achieved clarity on a few things because of all the silence I was surrounded by and produced 21,000 words. Had I stayed another two weeks I would have finished the first draft of my new novel. Of that I am sure. I must come back. It’s healing. And necessary.”

We hope to be able to offer this experience to many more women in the future. But even if you’re not at Storyknife today, women writers, we want you to know that your words are important, your stories matter. Keep writing.


Storyknife Progress


The first two weeks of September have been a glorious end to summer here at Storyknife. In fact, it’s been a year stuffed full of goodness.

In the beginning of the year, the board of Storyknife and I worked with the Foraker Group as part of the Pre-Development Program. We talked about dreams, goals, a vision for where Storyknife will grow, and the outcome was a strategic plan. Then we talked about budgets, costs, impact, constituents, and so much more and finally the outcome was a business plan that is sustainable.

I want to share the envisioned future of Storyknife from our strategic plan:

  • Fostering women’s powerful and necessary voices
  • Providing women a supportive community and the time and space to devote to writing
  • Lending cultural weight to women’s writing
  • Creating an environment of caring and hospitality
  • Creating a bedrock upon which women writers feel secure in exploring difficult, experimental, and engaging work
  • Providing a place that is beautiful, thoughtfully constructed, and nurturing
  • Fostering a level of respect (cultural and personal) for each woman and her creative process

June rolled around and we began to host our 2018 fellows, Ching-In Chen, Sharbari Ahmed, and Casandra Lopez. Three extraordinary women writers that were chosen from 97 applicants. It’s hard to express how much it saddens me when the letters go out to say sorry, you were not chosen this year. There was not one woman writer who applied who did not deserve to have her voice respected, fostered, taken care of. And the Storyknife call for applicants did not reach even a fraction of the women writers who deserve a residency.

Over the next few months, we’ll be sending out newsletters to let folks know what’s in store and how you might help. So many exciting things are in the works, and we can’t wait to share them with you. One way you can help that takes almost no effort at all: please share our website, our Facebook page, our newsletter signup link with everyone you know that believes that women’s voices matter.

Thank you for all your support in the past and we look so forward to moving into the future together.


Erin Hollowell, Executive Director Storyknife