Everyone, meet Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Storyknife’s new executive director! Poet by day, non-profit maven the rest of the time, she’s come on board to help get this party started. But first, get to know her a little.
I’m a poet all the way out at the end of the road that has been working on and off for Alaskan arts nonprofits for the last fifteen years. My poetry collection Pause, Travelerwas published by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press, in 2013, and my new collection Every Atom is forthcoming from the same press in 2018. I was the Rona Jaffe Scholarship winner for poetry at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 2010 and a 2013 recipient of a Rasmuson Foundation Fellowship and the Connie Boochever Award. I was lucky enough to be one of the inaugural recipients of the Alaska Literary Award in 2014. I’ve attended residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the Willapa Bay AiR, and understand completely how important a writers’ residency is for fostering creative work and faith in your writing. I can’t wait to make the same magic happen for other writers.
Dana again–We’ll have a Big Reveal later this week which will showcase all the goodness Erin’s been up to. Stay tuned!
[My remarks at Anchorage Rotary yesterday, as follows, and my thanks to Jon Deisher for making it happen.]
I have to start with a story, because you know that’s what I do. A guy walks into a bookstore, the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona. He tells the owner, Barbara Peters, that he left his book on the plane, and it was really good and he wants to finish it. Great, she says, thinking instant sale, what was the title? He can’t remember. Who was the author? He can’t remember that either. What was the story about? Well, it was a mystery. Finally she says to him, can you remember anything at all about this book that you loved and can’t wait to finish? Well, the cover was red.
This is my job. I’m the one who wrote the book the only distinctive thing about which this guy can remember is the color of the cover.
The ending of the story? She found the book for him.
Writing is a solitary and much misunderstood profession, largely I think because we have a job that keeps us locked alone in a room with a computer. No one sees us working so no one ever believes we really do work. To this day, old friends will come up to me and say, “Great to see you! Are you still writing?” At the Homer airport as I was waiting to board the plane to Anchorage to give this presentation, Jeff, seen elsewhere on this website as the guy who did the initial dirtwork on the Storyknife lot, came up to me and said, “Dana! Great to see you! Are you still writing books?”
Well, yeah, Jeff, that’s how we both get paid. We writers are soooo misunderstood.
The first thing my writing ever earned me wasn’t a book contract, it wasn’t a royalty payment, and it wasn’t a spot on the New York Times bestseller list. No, the first thing my writing ever earned me was a residency at Hedgebrook, the only retreat for women writers in the world, on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. For two glorious weeks, every day I wrote in my cabin all day long, and in the evenings I joined my fellow writers in residence at dinner in the main house. The first evening I got up to help clear the table, Nancy Skinner Nordhoff, the angel who built Hedgebrook barked at me, “Sit DOWN.” And then she smiled and said, “You’ve already done your work for the day.”
Hedgebrook was the first place anyone ever acted around me like writing was a real job. Also, Hedgebrook taught me that I wasn’t the only person alive who was having trouble getting published, and who thought that adverbs were important. My stay at Hedgebrook was then and remains today the most valuable experience I’ve ever had as a writer.
And three months later I signed my first publishing contract.
I was one of Hedgebrook’s first residents when it opened back in 1989. Then, it was trying desperately to become known. Now, today, it can have as many as 1400 applications for the 40 spaces available in a six-month semester. They are, as you might imagine, very excited about Storyknife as an alternative possibility for their overflow.
Storyknife will consist of six cabins and a main house on four acres of view property five miles outside of Homer. The writers will spend their days at work in the cabins and gather each evening for dinner and shop talk at the main house. Their stays will be anywhere from two weeks to two months, with everything provided. All they have to do is get themselves to Anchorage.
Storyknife will have two full-time employees, the executive director and the manager/chef. All other services will be local contract hire, housekeeping, groundskeeping, and repairs and maintenance. There will be a selection committee of three, at first, although in the future I want Storyknife to follow Hedgebrook’s example and use its alumnae as a first-level selection committee, which of course we can’t do until we have some alumnae. There is of course a board of directors, which includes Catherine Stevens and Jeannie Penney. I tried to get Cathy Rasmuson but she’s determined to stay retired, although she did promise to host a fund-raising event and I’m going to hold her to it. She has also been a generous contributor, even before we were 501c3, and I only wish she and Ed were here to hear me say that.
I am president of Storyknife and will remain so for the first three to five years of its existence, after which I will become a board member emeritus. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever got about Storyknife specifically and about running nonprofits in general I got from Dennis McMillan of Foraker. He said that having the same people run the same organization for too long led to mission fatigue, and my plan is to build a nonprofit that outlasts me.
Storyknife is going to cost about $1 million to build, and as near as I can figure it today, with admittedly no operational history to use for data, $3 to $5 million to endow. The land is paid for, it’s been cleared, it perks, it is situated miraculously in a good water area, something for which the south Kenai is not particularly well known, and I have a builder who is ready to go. You should know, too, that I have created a trust whereby all of my property, real and intellectual, which includes all the rights to all of my books, goes to Storyknife.
In conclusion. I think it’s a legitimate question to ask why in the world I want to do this. I’ve written 32 novels, I’m working on my 33rd, I have plans for another dozen in the works. Isn’t a shelf full of books, and Edgar and Nero awards, and the Governor’s Arts Award for Artist of the Year, and the Woman of Achievement Award from the Alaska YWCA, not to mention a good living, isn’t that enough for one lifetime?
My aunt died in December. She was 85 years old. She raised four kids, none of whom turned out to be drug dealers or serial killers. I said that to her once and she laughed and said, “So we’re not setting the bar very high.” I still think it’s a pretty good bar myself. But her passing marks the end of a generation, the generation that built this state. My aunt worked for Mudhole Smith when he opened up the Kennecott Mine to tourism. My father came to Alaska on a Liberty ship in World War II, worked his way up to master mechanic, and led a Cat train to the Rampart Dam site on the Yukon River in 1957. My uncle was working on the Million Dollar Bridge outside of Cordova when the Alaska Earthquake hit in 1964. My mother was one of the first if not the first woman deckhand on a fish tender in Cook Inlet in the 1960s.
They’re all gone now, along with Ted, and Jay, and Elmer, and almost all of the other giants who built this state. Compared to that, a shelf full of books doesn’t seem like near enough. Storyknife is, I guess, my attempt to achieve some kind of parity. Although I’ll never manage it.
There is also this. Littera scripta manet. The written word survives. If someone hadn’t had the bright idea to write down Homer’s words three thousand years ago, we wouldn’t still be studying the Iliad and the Odyssey in high school. There is a lifestyle going on here in Alaska today that will not survive the people living it. Maybe three thousand years from now, a high school English class will be reading the works of a writer nourished and encouraged by her stay at Storyknife, and will learn thereby who we were. It’s one version of immortality, anyway.
Yes, I returned from the second Alaska Women’s Summit in Anchorage to find The Letter in Storyknife’s mailbox, complete with EIN and DLN and ID and every number we need to make us tax deductible.
The takeaway here is: From April 2, 2013, every dime anyone gives or gave Storyknife is tax deductible.
Now I can start asking people for money. Rejoice!! I am.
In the meantime, my friends Jason and Barbi have done heroic work all summer long in clearing trees from the Storyknife property, which they harvested for firewood. As soon as there is snow on the ground (or as soon as it has rained for long enough), Todd of K Martin Construction will be back to pull and burn stumps.
[Photos are taken from Storyknife. This is what our writers will see when they look up from their keyboards.]
So, not a lot of activity to report. Chiefly, we have yet to receive word from the IRS about our 501c3 status, and we can’t begin serious fund-raising until we have it.
To recap, we applied last February. In April they asked us for an additional document, which we provided, which they took as an opportunity to reset our application at zero, of which they informed us in May.
We called a few times between May and September, at which times they informed us they’ve been slammed with applications because of the recession, they haven’t been able to fill vacant positions because of the sequester, and they spent the summer traipsing back and forth to Capitol Hill, there to testify before Congress on their 501c4 problem. Please do note the difference in number from ours, but of course that backed everything up all across the board. Congress can be labor intensive.
So our vice president, Pati Crofut, called them in September to ask for an update. We were at the intermediate stage in the process, she was told, and call back in a month.
When we called back, the government was shut down. The IRS wasn’t even answering their phones. So when they reopened for business we called and asked for an official letter letting us know where we were. They were obligated to send us that letter within 30 days. That was in November. We’re still waiting.
Admit it. If I wrote this in a book, you wouldn’t believe it.
Actually, after the hullabaloo of the rollout the delay hasn’t been a bad thing. Everyone on our board has had one of those years, fires, moving, new twin grand-daughters, falling off a ladder and being incapacitated for a month.
It’s a brand new year, and we’ll be certified for 501c3 before too long, I hope, and when we are, the fireworks will go up here on storyknife.org. Our grateful thanks to everyone who gave to us regardless last year. Stay tuned!
Listen to author Susan Wingate interview me about Storyknife by clicking on the link below. It was a fun conversation. It’s always nice to talk to another author, you never have to explain your references.
You’ll recognize Storyknife builder Scott Bauer on the left, and that’s Jeff Middleton on the digger. They’re looking for water problems where we want to build and not finding any, yay!
These are baby steps, as we have yet to begin serious fund-raising, mostly because we haven’t received our 501(c)(3) certification from the IRS yet. As I’m sure you’ve noticed the IRS is currently in a bit of a kerfuffle and I fear it is slowing everything down.
But forward, anyway! I’m chipping away at the construction as I can afford it. The water and sewer engineering is going to cost about $6000, and I’m already into this for about $15,000+ (need to add that up at some point). Never let it be said I don’t put my money where my mouth is.
WRITER DANA STABENOW LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN TO BUILD STORYKNIFE RETREAT IN HOMER First Phase of Campaign Aims to Raise $1 Million to Develop Alaska Retreat for Women Writers
HOMER, ALASKA (April 11, 2013) – Prolific author of the Kate Shugak series of mystery novels and Homer resident Dana Stabenow announced today the launch of her campaign to raise $1 million to build Alaska’s only retreat for female writers, Storyknife Writers Retreat. Storyknife will be only the second residency of its kind in the world.
To kick off the campaign Stabenow is launching a crowd-sourced funding round on Storyknife’s website, www.storyknife.org, and on her fan sites. The organization is accepting donations of all denominations but a list of specific funding levels and benefits is also available on the site.
The $1 million fundraising campaign is the first phase in a much larger effort to raise a total of $21 million to cover the costs of developing the property and ensuring its continuing legacy through a $20 million endowment.
The first thing that Stabenow’s writing ever earned her was not the sale of an article or a book. It was a residency at the Hedgebrook Farm retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island, Washington in Puget Sound.
The author calls her time at Hedgebrook the seminal moment of her writing career. “It was the first time anyone ever acted like writing was a real job,” she says. Stabenow’s vision for Storyknife is to pass that gift on to a new generation of female writers.
“So far as we can discover,” Stabenow says, “Hedgebrook Farm is the only writers retreat for women in existence.” Storyknife will double the amount of residences available for women writers worldwide, and give women writers a unique space and time to hone their craft.
The Retreat takes its name from the English translation for the Yupik word yaaruin or “storyknife.” Traditionally, Yupik girls would use yaaruin made from wood, bone, antler or ivory, to carve stories in snow and in riverbanks to amuse and instruct their younger siblings.
Dana says, “I came across mention of storyknives in one of the early explorer diaries and I couldn’t rest until I knew more. As a traditional Alaska Native vehicle for storytelling, it is the perfect metaphor for what we hope to accomplish at Storyknife. I’m hoping we get a lot of Alaska Native women writers applying for residencies at Storyknife, too.”
Writers will be admitted to the residency after a rigorous application process, including statements of need and samples of work. Upon successful admission, writers will come to Storyknife for two-to-eight-week residencies to focus on their diverse projects in uninterrupted peace, an atmosphere made possible by the Storyknife endowment. “Following in the tradition set by Hedgebrook,” Dana says, “Storyknife residents will not be allowed to wash so much as a teacup. Their job here will be to write.”
With the exception of travel to and from Anchorage, all expenses for writers in residence will be covered, including a specially curated Alaskan adventure of each writer’s choosing. Examples of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences include halibut fishing, ocean kayaking, bear viewing, and flight-seeing.
THE RETREAT Located just outside Homer, the Storyknife Writers Retreat will boast six private cabins and a main house dotted around a six-acre property commanding 180-degree views of lower Cook Inlet.
Sustainability and supporting local economies will be an ongoing focus for the Retreat. Meals will feature produce from the property’s own garden, with locally supplied moose and salmon as other culinary mainstays.
DANA STABENOW Born in Anchorage, Alaska on March 27, 1952, Stabenow is one of Alaska’s most prolific living authors. Stabenow has written 29 novels, numerous short stories, several anthologies, and contributed the Alaska Traveler column to Alaska magazine for five years.
Throughout her career she has amassed critical, public and civic acclaim, most notably the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original for A Cold Day for Murder in 1993 and being named Alaska’s Artist of the Year in the 2007 Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities. She won a 2012 Nero Award for literary excellence in the mystery genre for Though Not Dead.
About Storyknife Writers Retreat Storyknife Writers Retreat is a non-profit organization with the mandate to build and operate a retreat and residency program in Homer, Alaska for aspiring female writers. Its 501(c)3 application is pending. Founded by author Dana Stabenow, Storyknife will double the residencies available exclusively to women in the literary arts, from six cabins (Hedgebrook Writers Retreat) to twelve (Storyknife). The organization is managed by a board of directors and is funded through the support of donors. To make donations or learn more, visit http://www.storyknife.org.