Hunkering Down at Storyknife

Autumn sunset at Storyknife

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.
  • Ruby Hansen Murray’s creative nonfiction piece “Coyote Hunters” in World Literature Today is about how animals make their way in the modern world and where they live in memory. Also wonderful is her hybrid work about the environment, culture, and history in About Place Journal.
  • Bea Chang has a compelling essay about sports and the pandemic, “Everything’s Fine” in Broad Street Online. 
  • Megan Donnelly worked at Storyknife on this harrowing essay published in The Columbia Journal while she was still a teacher in Bush Alaska.
  • You can read a showcase of Mairéad Byrne’s work in her collected poems, You Have to Laugh. Start with this lovely poem in Dusie, “Early Morning, Dublin.”
  • Or enjoy an essay about albatross in The Statesider by Storyknife’s very first resident Kim Steutermann Rogers. Into volcanoes? She has a great article “How Volcanoes Reshape Ecosystems” in The Smithsonian.

Just as each one of these amazing writers had their time at Storyknife, so too, will others. We know it has been hard to wait. It’s hard for us, too.

Please know that our thoughts are with all of the people who make up the Storyknife community. We hope that you, your family, and those close to you are well and safe.

Take good care of yourselves. Your stories are important. You are important.

Take care,
Storyknife ED

Introducing Storyknife’s New Board Members

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

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

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.  

How are you doing?

No really. How are you doing? If you are reading these newsletters, I am assuming that you are either a woman writer or someone who supports the work of women 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:

Please know that our thoughts are with all of the people who make up the Storyknife community. We hope that you, your family, and those close to you are well and safe.

Take good care of yourselves. Your stories are important. You are important.

take care,
Executive Director of Storyknife

Storyknife Writers Retreat on a sunny day in early August

Virtual Open House 6/19/20

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.

Finishing touches

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.

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.

The sign for Dana’s Library.

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.

Dana Stabenow and artist Dave Gerard.

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.

Carol Cabin

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.

Betty Cabin

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.

Diana Cabin

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.

Evangeline Cabin

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.

Peggy Cabin

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.

Katie Cabin

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.

A Year to Raise Storyknife

What a difference a year makes.

Founder Dana Levin
Storyknife Founder Dana Stabenow

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.

Waiting and Dreaming

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.

Quilt by Alice Krivitsky in Katie Cabin

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.

Quilt by Karrie Youngblood in Peggy Cabin

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.

Quilt by Patrice Krant in Evangeline Cabin

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.

Quilt by Peggy Parsons in Diana Cabin

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


Quilt by Shirley Svoboda in Betty Cabin
Quilt by Piama Svoboda in Carol Cabin

What a difference…

Five cozy throws knit by Dana Stabenow and one given by wonderful benefactor Cathy Rasmuson.

….a month makes. Just last month at this time, we were planning the April residencies and hearing a little about a virus that was spreading overseas. Now, we find ourselves postponing the April residency and our planned Grand Opening ceremony. We are still preparing Storyknife for the residents that we’ve scheduled this year. We’re watching things very closely and as soon as it is safe to travel, we’ll start the residency season.

One of the March festivities that was called off in Homer was the Celebration of Lifelong Learning, an event held each year by the Friends of the Homer Public Library. This year would have seen the first time the Sue Gibson Award was bestowed to the inaugural recipient, Dana Stabenow! So instead of a fancy shindig, the award was presented on Homer’s wonderful public radio station, KBBI 890AM. We’d like to take this opportunity to share the remarks that were made with all of you. When the link for the actual recording is posted, we’ll be sure to add it to this post and share it on social media.

Erin’s Introduction:
I’m Erin Hollowell, the executive director of Storyknife Writers Retreat. It’s my pleasure and privilege to introduce Dana Stabenow, extraordinary novelist, founder and board president of Storyknife Writers Retreat, and winner of the first Sue Gibson Community Achievement Award which recognizes individuals who have invested in and created an institution that empowers learning, reflection and creativity.

I’ve been working with Dana for close to four years now on her vision of Storyknife Writers Retreat – a writers residency that provides women the time and space to focus on their own work. Dana’s vision of fostering women writers in the way that a residency at Hedgebrook fostered her close to thirty years ago has never wavered in all that time (and indeed long before I came on board). Storyknife will stand as a lasting example of her dedication to creating the kid of community that doesn’t end when the writers return home after the two to four week residency. They will form bonds that will hold throughout their lifetimes and they will open the doors of opportunity for each other.

Dana has been steadfast in aiming for diversity in background, age, genre, and experience, so that each month at Storyknife will bring together a variety of individuals that is rich and sustaining. She has emulated Hedgebrook’s “radical hospitality” so that every writer at Storyknife will understand that she and her work matter. Storyknife will not just enrich the community of Homer, not just enrich the women who attend residencies, but continue to enrich readers as important work from women writers comes into the world and finds its readers.

Dana’s Remarks:
My very first memory is of my mother’s forefinger slowly skimming beneath the words, “Once upon a time, in a faraway land, lived a beautiful princess named Snow White.  She had skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony.” The truth is, I don’t ever remember learning to read. I can only remember always knowing how.

David Owen, from his book The First National Bank of Dad, writes,
“Children who are read to regularly from early ages develop lifelong skills that can’t be acquired from a VCR or the Disney Channel.  They become better listeners and find it easier to pay attention in school.  Their vocabularies grow rapidly, and grammar seems less mysterious to them.  They don’t immediately lose interest in any idea that is harder to grasp than a television commercial.  They  develop the patience to follow a complex problem to its solution.  They become better writers all by themselves, through their ample powers of imitation.
            …Good readers do better in school, score higher on standardized tests…attend better colleges, hold more interesting jobs, write more persuasive legal briefs, make better conversation, and become less and less likely to gripe about being bored…
            Most of all, children who grow up immersed in books develop the ability to answer their own questions….Gradually, they acquire a skill shared by the greatest scholars in the world:  the ability to educate themselves…”

So, I learned to read pretty much by osmosis sitting on my mom’s lap. And then, when I was about 8 my mom took me down to the Seldovia Public Library, at that pre-earthquake time one room in the basement of city hall. The founder and eternal flame of the library was Susan Bloch English. She looked at me over the tops of her glasses and said to my mom, “Well, Joan, let’s start her on some Nancy Drew.” I never looked back.

I can’t conceive of a world without books. Enough of them can’t be written. Storyknife is a place where more will be.

Among other authors I was once solicited for a tag line for a T-shirt that was made to celebrate libraries. This is what I came up with: “Libraries are what keep us a step ahead of the apes.”

It makes people laugh when I say it now, but it also has the virtue of being the absolute truth. I still have the T-shirt and I plan on being cremated in it.

To be honored in this fashion by my very own local public library is the highest honor I could ever achieve. Thank you so much.

Please everyone stay safe. Maintaining social distance will be the best way to fight this thing. Do we dare suggest that this would be an excellent time to catch up on your reading and writing? Hang in there. Be kind to everyone, including yourself! 

take care,
Erin Hollowell
Executive Director, Storyknife

COVID-19 Update

In light of national efforts to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19), Executive Director Erin Hollowell and the board of Storyknife Writers Retreat have decided to cancel the April residency session.

Although there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Alaska, Storyknife is proceeding with an abundance of caution, especially in light of evolving restrictions. Those scheduled in April will have a chance to reschedule next year. We will make decisions going forward that allow residents in May and beyond at least two weeks advance notice.  We do not do this lightly, but with the understanding that many of our residents would be spending many hours traveling by plane and then be far from home and family. We want the writers’ residencies to be as stress-free and productive as possible.

We are closely monitoring several websites that you should also be paying attention to:

We expect that you are taking the same precautions that we are (especially when traveling):

  • wash your hands frequently with hot soapy water.
  • use a tissue for coughs.
  • avoid touching your face.
  • maintaining social distance and respecting self-quarantine suggestions.

Please know that we have the best interests of women writers at heart. Your story and your writing are so important to us. Take good care of yourselves and your family, friends, and community.