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 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.

By Leaps and Bounds


We are delighted to announce that Storyknife Writers Retreat has raised enough funds that with a 2-to-1 matching donation from Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli, the main house can be built and dedicated to Homer writer Eva Saulitis!

Starting in November last year, donations were solicited via a crowd-funding campaign to build Eva’s House, the main house where the chef/site manager will provide meals for residents throughout their stay. Eva’s House will also contain a dining/living area, office, and library/classroom for public presentations.

Last month, we reached our goal with a donation made by Nancy Nordhoff, the founder of Hedgebrook. If you remember, in 1989, Dana Stabenow won 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 such an opportunity for women writers at Storyknife. Joe, Peggy, and Nancy’s generous spirits are touchstones for us as we grow.

We continue to concentrate on raising the rest of the funds needed for building the remaining three cabins as well as the infrastructure, furnishings, and landscape development. Your donations will still go directly into the capital campaign account. All donations over $1000 will assure your place in the Mount Iliamna Founders Circle, but any donation helps bring Storyknife one step closer to completion.

Also in April, Erin attended the Emerging Programs Conference held by the Alliance of Artist Communities. She learned so much about promoting equity, board development, funding, messaging, and the business of running a writer’s residency. We can’t wait to put some of what she learned into action as we gear up for our 2017 residency season which opens with Maireád Byrne in June. Please join us in celebrating women’s voices!

If there’s anything you want to learn more about, please feel free to reach out to Erin at

PS. The photo is American Brianna Rollins cruising to victory in a semifinal heat of the women’s 100-meter hurdles in August 2016. We like to imagine ourselves crushing our fundraising campaign like that.

Welcome 2017 Storyknife Fellows

The multi-level decision process to winnow the large number of FABULOUS submissions that we received for the 2017 Storyknife residency season was arduous but necessary. We could have easily awarded 42 residencies; which is the number of residencies we will offer each year when all the cabins and main house are built. Our selection committee read and reread the submissions, and finally selected the following four women, each chosen based on the strength of her writing sample.

Behind the scenes at Storyknife, we’re strengthening our business plan, our fundraising plan, and most of all, we’re working towards the vision of building a place where women’s writing is nurtured and celebrated.

Please join us in congratulating these amazing women writers. We look forward to hosting them.

In June
Mairéad Byrne’s most recent book is Famosa na sua cabeça (Famous in Your Head), selected and translated by Brazilian poet Dirceu Villa (São Paulo: Dobra Editorial 2015). She is also the author of two plays, five collaborative books with visual artists, and five poetry collections, published in Ireland, the United States, and on the Internet. She’s wildly excited about coming to Alaska, to make poems in collaboration with the land and sea and skyscape of lower Cook Inlet.

In July
Megan Donnelly is a writer and teacher living in rural Alaska. She graduated from McGill University in Montreal with a degree in English Literature and credits her father with teaching her how to write an essay. Since moving to Alaska, she has involuntarily landed a plane, eaten whale from the Chukchi Sea, and witnessed polar bears dumpster diving. Her first published essay is forthcoming in The Rumpus.

In August
Bea Chang received her BA from Haverford College and her MFA in fiction from the University of Washington, Seattle. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Awesome Sports Project, an online journal dedicated to inspiring girls’ and women’s voices in sports. In addition, her stories and essays have appeared in Colere: A Journal of Cultural Exploration, Toasted Cheese, Memoir Journal, and Broad Street. In 2017, she was nominated for the PushCart Prize for her essay, “The River My Father Promised.” Since 2007, she has lived in and backpacked through 53 countries. Bea stayed in Seattle for a while, but is probably somewhere else now with her blue alien muse.

In September
Ruby Hansen Murray is a writer and photographer living in the lower Columbia River estuary. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Yellow Medicine Review, Apogee, World Literature Today, About Place Journal and American Ghost: Poets on Life after Industry. She is an Island Institute, Hedgebrook, and Jack Straw fellow, who studied at Warren Wilson College and the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Spring is coming… March update

thrushFebruary was a busy month for Storyknife.

We were parsing out all of the submissions to our wonderful team of reviewers. Each submission was to be read by three people. We also needed to create a grid so we could figure out which applicants wanted a two-week retreat, which wanted a four-week retreat, and which month each was available. It looked a little like a complicated game of Tetris.

But it was completely worth it. This application period, we received almost seventy applications, each and every one like a gift sent to us by a woman who hoped to have some time to devote to her craft. It’s sad that we don’t have room for everyone. Next Monday, we’ll be posting biographies of the four writers chosen, but know that it was a really difficult decision.

I’d like to update you on the fund-raising efforts for Eva’s House. We didn’t quite make our goal of raising $83,333 before February 14. Recently Patrice Krant donated $10,000 which will be matched by her former employer Coca-Cola, and that has considerably helped us towards our goal. We’re at $47,200, meaning we’re over half, but not there yet. Luckily for us, Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli have agreed to extend the deadline on their $2 for every $1 match on funds donated. If we can reach $83,333 by August 30, Peggy and Joe will contribute the remaining funds to reach the $250,000 needed to build the main house.

In other words, we have six months to raise $36,133. We can do that, right? And by we, I don’t mean Dana and I, I mean all of us who want to see Storyknife built so that we can offer more opportunities for women writers to devote uninterrupted time to their craft.

There is snow on the grounds of Storyknife right now. But underneath the snow, grass is waiting to spring up. The Frederica cabin is waiting for her summer writers. I am waiting for the day when I hear a varied thrush call out from the alders.

In her beautiful book Becoming Earth, Eva Saulitis wrote:

If the coastal spruce forest has a voice, this is it, varied thrush calls sketching an acoustic self-portrait of the landscape, pitched variably to reflect dark spaces, thicknesses, the heights of trees. How did I even grasp time and home without these markers? Varied thrushes are nothing like the birds of my youth. These raspy voices don’t recall the tender swirlings and whistlings of northeastern species like the red-eyed vireo or the shy veery, high in the budding canopy. No, varied thrush songs describe a plainer face: snowmelt rivulets sluicing through brown meadows, mud to the shins, to the axles, ice jams and overflow, spindly spruce trees swaying in a frigid south wind.

Dana and I are asking once again, if you might pitch in and donate toward’s Eva’s House. Let’s get this thing done. Let’s make sure that women’s stories are afforded the respect and unfettered time to unfold that they deserve.