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

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.


Donate to Sue’s Cabin

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.