January Update

Iliamna on a winter day.

It’s been a cold and icy winter here in the Homer, but we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to bring Storyknife together. More than ever, women’s stories matter! Our writing can change the world.

A reminder of IMPORTANT DATES:


January 27 is the deadline for applications for the 2017 residency period of June, July, August, and September. The link is: https://storyknifewritersretreat.submittable.com/submit. The application process is straight-forward and your writing sample is the most important part. Please apply and pass this information along to any women writers you know that could use a month to concentrate on their work. Let Storyknife give you the time and space to craft your words.


February 14 is approaching, and we’re still trying to raise the funds to build the main house of Storyknife to be named after Eva Saulitis. Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli have been so generous to match your donations two dollars for ever one you donate! We’ve made great strides toward raising the money for Storyknife, but we won’t get there without your help. We’re in a new year, and all of your donations will be tax deductible. Please consider donating either by sending a check to Storyknife at our PO Box 75, Homer, AK 99603 (be sure to write “Eva’s House” on the comment line) or through our digital portal on generosity.com.

When we look out over the rolling snow-covered hillside that faces Cook Inlet, with the mountains and the volcanoes in the background, we believe in the power of this place. We believe in the power of women’s voices. Do you believe in that as well? Would you be willing to be a real part of this place? We hope so.

Join us!

Rise Up!


We are excited and honored to report that three of Storyknife’s six cabins have been named by the following generous donors:

  • Arliss Sturgulewski, who will be naming her cabin for her daughter-in-law, Carol.
  • Jeannie Penney, who will be naming her cabin for her mother, Betty Rice.
  • Cathy Rasmuson, who will be naming her cabin for Halibut Cove artist Diana Tillion.

Each cabin will have a photograph and biography of the woman whose name it bears. Dana Stabenow says, “Cathy Rasmuson is threatening to decorate her cabin with art by its namesake so we’re expecting competition among writers for Diana Cabin to be fierce.” We are so proud to have the support of these amazing donors, exemplars of how large-hearted and visionary Alaskan women can be.

There are an additional three cabins still available for sponsorship as well as other opportunities to honor an important woman in your life.

In equally exciting news, on November 14 we started a fundraiser to build the main house of Storyknife and dedicate it to Eva Saulitis. That fundraiser will continue until February 14, 2017, and during that time each dollar donated will be matched 2-for-1 by Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli. Right now, $18,510 has been donated in Eva’s name. Our matching donors will turn that into $55,530. That’s right, in one month, we’re a fifth of the way there. To all of you who have donated thus far, thank you for your vision and your generosity.

Remember we only have until February 14th to meet Joe and Peggy’s most generous matching grant, so we need to reach out to everyone who knew Eva and wants memorialize her giving spirit. Please consider donating either through the Generosity site or by check (Storyknife, PO Box 75, Homer, Alaska, 99603).

Finally, we have just opened the application period for the four Storyknife Writers Retreat residencies available in 2017. From now until January 27, we are taking submissions. I know that people are excited, because in fewer than twelve hours, we already have two submitted applications. And considering that most of those twelve hours started at midnight on December 15, that’s pretty amazing!

Here at Storyknife, we believe that women’s stories matter. The opportunity to devote her unbroken time and attention will not only enrich the writer, but add to the wisdom of the whole world. Rise up, women writers and write the stories and poetry that are inside you! 

More writers at Storyknife in 2017

In 2016 Storyknife hosted its inaugural Fellow, Kim Steutermann Rogers, for the month of September.

photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

Kim arrived on September 1st and departed on September 30th. While she was here she wrote 249 pages, which was better than I did that month. She integrated so fully into the Homer community that total strangers came up to me in Safeway to ask, “How’s the writer doing?” She wrote that on her first day in Frederica I told her, “You’re a dream come true.” She was, in just about every imaginable way.

In short, she set the bar pretty high for the writers who will follow her at Storyknife. That doesn’t scare me. It inspires me to reach even higher.

So in 2017, Frederica Cabin at Storyknife will host four women writers, one each in the months of June, July, August and September. The application period begins today, December 15th and runs through January 27th.

Introducing Pam Houston

photo credit: Adam Karsten
photo credit: Adam Karsten

I’m excited to introduce you to our newest Advisory Council member, Pam Houston.

The incredible Paula Martin has become Storyknife’s newest Board of Directors member, so we had a spot open on the Advisory Council. Lucky for us, Pam Houston was agreeable to joining on. Pam is an outspoken advocate for women writers, an incredible teacher, and a great writer. We feel very lucky to have her pitching in to make Storyknife a reality.

houston_contentsPam Houston is the author of two novels, Contents May Have Shifted and Sight Hound, two collections of short stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness and Waltzing the Cat, and a collection of essays, A Little More About Me, all published by W.W. Norton. Her stories have been selected for volumes of The O. Henry Awards, The 2013 Pushcart Prize, and Best American Short Stories of the Century. She teaches in the Low Rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, is Professor of English at UC Davis, and directs the literary nonprofit Writing By Writers. She lives at 9,000 feet above sea level near the headwaters of the Rio Grande and is at work on a book about that place.

An Incredible Opportunity

View from Storyknife courtesy of Kim Rogers, inaugural Storyknife resident
View from Storyknife courtesy of Kim Rogers, inaugural Storyknife resident

There are people whose lives touch yours, who are like a light along the path, a light you can follow. For me, and for so many other people, Eva Saulitis was that light. An incredible scientist, teacher, friend, writer, and genuinely generous person, Eva was one-of-a-kind. In January this year, when she died from breast cancer, grief swamped the little town of Homer, Alaska, and the waves traveled outward. Many of those mourning had never met Eva in person. They had been touched by Eva’s grace and grit, all packaged in the beauty of her writing.

There are many ways to remember Eva. For me, I remember the camaraderie of knowing each morning that the two of us were writing in our journals at the same time, looking out at the mountains across Kachemak Bay. Others remember moments in Eva’s class or in a workshop at the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference. Others still are connected to Eva through the words she left behind, most poignantly in Becoming Earth which was published this August. I am excited to tell you of one more way for Eva’s legacy to live on.

We’d like to name the main house of Storyknife “Eva’s House.” To do so, we’re going to try to raise $250,000 by Valentine’s Day in 2017. To help us along, Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli have offered to match your donations two-for-one. So, until we reach our goal of $250,000, they will be basically tripling your donation.

Here’s how to donate and triple your dollars:

  • Go to our fundraising page. Generosity.com is an off-shoot of Indiegogo for non-profit organizations. You can donate securely through their page. The take 3% plus 30 cents per donation, which is comparable to PayPal.
  • OR send us a check so that the entire amount goes into the fund – make it out to Storyknife and send it to PO BOX 489, Homer, Alaska 99603. Please write Eva’s House on the memo line so that we know what fund to credit.

Then watch this page for updates on the funds raised. Please share this on social media, through email, and word of mouth. Women’s stories are important, now more than ever. Let’s make Eva’s House and Storyknife happen!

At the Heart of the Matter

aac16Earlier in October, I attended the Alliance of Artist Communities Conference in Portland, Oregon. It was an incredible experience to spend three days with the leaders of artist and writers’ residencies. Such residencies take so many different forms, and yet at the heart of each is the conviction that the stories we tell through art and writing are important and have the capacity to change our culture and heal individuals.

I’d like to tell you a little about what I learned at the conference and how it relates to the way Storyknife is unfolding. The conference began with an incredible poem by Washington Poet Laureate Elizabeth Woody followed by a keynote address by the incomparable Lidia Yuknavitch.  Lidia spoke of her bent path to published writer, and reminded all of us that we don’t know who will be the next important voice, that stories come from every quarter, and that art and story are a way to make sense of the world and form community.

In the many sessions I attended, I learned about raising money (tough during the current economic climate), strategic plans, boards, legacy giving, place-based foundations, “green” building, supporting writers in residence, creating equity, and developing a supportive community. Some of what I came away with is very nuts-and-bolts, but I also have pages and pages of notes highlighting what those of us behind the scenes at Storyknife are already doing and how to do it better (and maybe faster).

More than ever, I see Storyknife as a social transformation organization, one that will create space for women’s writing and a community which shares in their dreams. Women’s stories are of the utmost importance, and our culture has yet to effectively recognize that.

Over the past few years, Dana has fostered an idea. Over the past six months, Dana and I have taken that idea and turned it into concrete plans and budgets. Everything I learned at the Alliance of Artist Community Conference leads me to believe that Storyknife is not only important, but that we have put down a strong foundation.

All of us can help make Storyknife a reality. We’ve updated our Support page, and I’d like to take this opportunity to invite you to support the building of Storyknife. There is room for big gifts and small, one-time support and ongoing. Or pledge now via email so that we can remind you in a month or two that you also want to help foster women’s writing. By supporting Storyknife, you can build a culture where women don’t have to fight for the legitimacy of their stories. Let’s get moving down the road to the moment when I can post a photo of Dana with her shovel breaking ground at Storyknife. Our builder, Scott, is only waiting for us to give him the go.

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or ideas.

A few words from Storyknife’s Inaugural Fellow – Kim Steutermann Rogers

Photo by Michael Armstrong for the Homer News
Photo by Michael Armstrong for the Homer News

She’d already given me a brief tour of Frederica cabin. Brief because the cabin is perfectly sized small. Brief because I sensed she did not want to intrude on what would be my writing space and home for the next month. Brief because I sensed something else going on. As she walked out the door and down the few steps to the gravel drive, author Dana Stabenow paused and said to me, “You’re a dream come true.”

Then, quickly, she turned and walked off, head down as if bracing for a stiff wind or readying for an overhead wave about to collide with the fishing boat on which she’d grown up. Or, maybe, simply to hide a big grin on her face.

Across the Cook Inlet, Mts. Douglas, Augustine, Iliamna, and Redoubt radiated in the dwindling Fall light.

I’ve been home a week now, and I still think about Dana’s words. In that moment, I understood the import of my arrival in Homer, Alaska. Sure, I’d been awarded a place to write; a place to sit and read; a place to photograph, if I chose. I’d been given a place with no expectations. No deadlines. No responsibilities. No requirements. But more than that, as the inaugural fellow of the great effort known as Storyknife Writers Retreat, I was given the opportunity to be someone else’s dream come true.

I didn’t expect that.

We’ve all heard the words before: You’re a dream come true. I may have said them this week at the post office as I juggled a couple boxes, a stack of mail, and a dog on a leash when a stranger saw my predicament and opened the door for me.

But this was different. Dana’s words had weight. They weren’t an exaggeration or a cliché. I understood in a new way my arrival at Storyknife. My very presence in Homer was the manifestation of an idea to provide women a place to write.

I was thinking about Dana’s words when I returned inside Frederica cabin to get settled. I unpacked my suitcase. I set out a box of books on my desk. Then, I unloaded some groceries I’d picked up on my five-hour drive down the spine of the Kenai Peninsula. Stashing cold goods in the refrigerator, I paused to take in a photograph hanging on the wall. The setting looked familiar, but the print was aged, making me think it had been made back in film days. I would examine that photograph many times as I stood scrambling eggs over a hotplate or awaiting water to boil for tea. But it wasn’t until my last night in Frederica cabin that I asked Dana about it. And, then, it was one of those I-shoulda-had-a-V-8 moments.

Because just like I’d suspected, the captured image hanging on the wall of a cabin in Homer, Alaska was taken in Hawai‘i. And not just any place in Hawai‘i. But a scenic view of Kaua‘i, the island on which I live. Of all the women from around the world who applied to be Storyknife’s inaugural fellow, the chosen one—me—would fly nearly eight hours and drive another five to find a photograph of a scene from practically her backyard.

There’s much I want to say about Alaska. I witnessed the moon come into its fullness—a harvest moon, super moon, and eclipse rolled into one. I watched fog roll in off the Pacific and erase my view of four volcanoes. I took note as clouds stretched like taffy and galloped like stallions and scowled like a mama bear in the woods, all in the course of a single afternoon. I ran outside when I heard the creaky hinged call of Sandhill cranes flying overhead. I felt spit drop from the sky as if it were a bed sheet hanging on clothes line and the wind were whipping remnant water droplets out of it. I remarked over trees throwing a dance party on their top floors. I grabbed my camera to capture an image of a young moose trotting through the yard, fifty feet from my desk. I woke in the middle of the night as green curtains of light billowed across the sky. I learned that when it’s foggy atop the bluff at Storyknife the sun is shining on the Homer Spit. I understood the saying, “When the fireweed goes to cotton, summer’s soon forgotten.” And I added interesting words to my lexicon, including termination dust, spit rats, and buttwhackers.

There’s much I want to say about my experience at Storyknife. The logjam of a story I’d been holding within me for more than 10 years loosened, each log more or less finding its place in alignment. At least, for now. I discovered that a writing space free of physical distractions also brought with it a head space free of mental distractions, allowing me to stay in my right brain, the creative side, for long stretches of time.

When I told a friend I was going to Alaska to write, his reaction was, “You can’t write in Hawai‘i?” And I was reminded how we live in a left-brain world. That is, a society dominated by analytical and logical thinking. Like his. Creativity, however, emanates from the right side of the brain. To use a popular metaphor—one that left-brainers can grok—what Storyknife offered me was an entre into what athlete’s call, “the zone.”

This became evident to me when I received a couple phone calls and emails that about wrecked my zone. It were as if my right brain of a mouse was happily going about its business, exploring the nooks and crannies of my subconscious, working behind the scenes, conjuring a crumb of an idea here and there when—WHAM—the mouse trap slammed shut with the arrival of an email from a magazine editor wanting some additional reporting made to a story I’d filed weeks prior. Or the rental car company called wanting me to “drop off” my car in exchange for another. “You want me to drive five hours—each way—to swap cars?”

It can take hours to wriggle out of the mousetrap and carry on. This became clear to me at Storyknife. Even with a few disruptions, I managed to stay in the zone long enough to produce 249 pages of a first draft of a manuscript, about three-quarters of a book.

There’s something else I want to say about my experience at Storyknife. Something else unexpected came with the distraction-free writing space. It was a sense of importance. There is no greater motivator in life than when someone says, “Good job.” Being awarded the one-month residency at Storyknife was like one super-sized pat on the back. I’d never before felt so recognized for my writing. It was a warm feeling, one that hung around me for days.

I also admit: There were times during my time in Frederica cabin when I fell into imposter syndrome—a feeling that my writing didn’t matter. That no one would be interested in it. But there was really nothing else for me to do, so I kept writing. Besides, Storyknife believed in me. The weight of Dana’s words propelled me forward.

Now that I am home, as I ease back into my every day life and our left-brain world, I want to play my part in seeing this dream continue. One way to do that, I realize is to continue writing, to finish my book. I may have cleared out of Frederica cabin at the end of September, but I carried Storyknife home with me. There may be a photograph of Kaua‘i in a cabin in Alaska, and now there is a photograph—many of them—of Alaska on the walls of my home and in my heart here on Kaua‘i.

Introducing Katrina Woolford

pearsonI have been having such a wonderful time introducing you to the amazing women who have banded together on our Advisory Council to help make Storyknife a reality. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Katrina Woolford, a women who get things done. She is a savvy businesswoman and fierce advocate for authentic storytelling and Alaskan writers. Plus, she’s kind and just plain fun. I’m so looking forward to all of the incredible ideas she’ll bring to Storyknife.

Katrina is a lifelong Alaskan and her roots in the state run from Tenakee Springs to Teller. She was born and raised in Juneau, her grandfather was a Fish & Wildlife Officer in the 1940s based out of Fairbanks, and her great-grandfather was a member of the Territorial Legislature representing Nome.

She has decades of experience in Alaska’s literary arts, as a bookseller, author events coordinator, and publicist, as well as serving on boards and committees including the Literacy Council of Alaska and the 49 Writers Board of Directors. Currently, Katrina serves as the Publications Chair for the Gastineau Channel Historical Society, a board member of the Friends of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, and an organizing faculty member and sponsor of the North Words Writers Symposium.

Katrina is the owner of two Juneau-based companies: Taku Graphics, an art and book distribution company and Shorefast Editions, an independent literary press.  As the publisher at Shorefast she has worked as both editor and consultant to some of Alaska’s most distinguished writers.

Introducing Sherry Simpson

simpson_sherry_webSherry Simpson connects people. Not just with her amazing writing, but with her open heart and through the various roles she has played in the Alaska writing community. She teaches writers. She encourages them. Her students speak of her rapturously glowing terms. Seriously. So when we put together a list of women we wanted to work with to make Storyknife a reality, of course Sherry’s name came up within the first moments. Because she’s just that kick-ass. Ask the bears.

Dominion Cover webSherry Simpson grew up in Juneau after her family moved there when she was seven. She earned a journalism degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and worked as a reporter and freelance writer for newspapers and public radio in Juneau, Fairbanks, and Anchorage for many years before returning to school for a MFA degree in creative writing. Her most recent book is Dominion of Bears: Living with Wildlife in Alaska, which won the 2015 John Burroughs Medal for a distinguished work of natural historyShe is also the author of two essay collections, The Accidental Explorer: Wayfinding in Alaska and The Way Winter Comes, the winner of the inaugural Chinook Literary Prize. Her work has also received the Andrés Berger Nonfiction Award and Sierra magazine’s Nature Writing Award. Her essays and articles have appeared in numerous journals, magazines, and anthologies. She teaches nonfiction writing in the Low-Residency MFA program at the University of Alaska Anchorage and in the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. She and her husband recently moved to rural New Mexico, where she enjoys saying for the first time in her life, “Oh, good, it’s raining.”

Introducing Kate Carroll de Gutes

kate_smIt’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t know that Kate Carroll de Gutes was a force of nature. Her directness, her kindness, her ability to see what needs to be done in a situation and then pitch in and do it. She’s already brought so much to Storyknife, and we are so excited that she’s agreed to be part of the Advisory Council.

Kate Carroll de Gutes’ book, Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, won the 2016 Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction and a 2016 Lambda Literary Award in Memoir. She is a wry observer and writer who started her career as a journalist and then got excited by new journalism which became creative nonfiction and is now called essay (personal, lyric, and otherwise). Kate writes on a wide range of topics, but her obsession seems to focus on sexuality and gender presentation, and living an authentic life.

Here’s an excerpt from her book, Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear:

I can’t remember if the lapels of the tuxedo jacket were crushed velvet or shiny satin, some of the details are simply lost to the degrading dendrites and failing synapses of time. It was a black jacket, however, even though it was 1982 and it could have easily been powder blue. The shirt was a classic tuxedo shirt, the buttons and bow tie permanently attached. You actually slid into the shirt back to front and secured it up the back with a bit of Velcro, the quicker to get the high school seniors in and out of the photo studio.

Still. Tuxedo.

This is how it felt to change from the black velvet drape to the tuxedo: it was like diving into a cool, mineral-laden river, the way water slides all silky over skin turned pink from too much July sun, the way a body moves with the current—slipping along seemingly languidly only to find itself much further downstream than expected.

Or it felt like this: like a sigh made at the end of a long day when at last you can crawl into your big, king-sized bed just made with clean, purple 600-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets—like a whisper across your tired body—the memory foam mattress a reminder of what soft is supposed to feel like.

It did not feel like sitting exposed on top of a whiterock mesa in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, the wind kicking up the fine grit of desert topsoil and the pulverized sandstone, exfoliating the fair Irish skin on my cheeks and neck, searing my eyes, worrying my chattering mind about melanomas and carcinomas and survival in this too-bright landscape. No, that’s what the velvet drape—off the shoulder, no pushup bra or pearls—felt like.

The way I remember it is that it didn’t occur to me NOT to wear a tuxedo for my senior portrait. I felt handsome not beautiful, dapper not sexy. Of course tuxedo rather than drape. Of course bow tie rather than earrings.

You can learn more about Kate and sign up to get an essay a week from her about grief, the drama of perimenopause and dating, riding bikes, and the joys and challenges of authentic living at www.katecarrolldegutes.com.