Introducing Arlitia Jones


Sometimes you meet a person through her writing, and you just hold your breath and hope she is as incredible in person. I first met Arlitia through her poetry, but as our paths began to cross through the Alaska writing community, I was so happy to learn that she is an incredibly empathetic, generous person, just like her writing. We are so honored that she’s part of Storyknife’s Advisory Council.

A dramaturg in Seattle described Arlitia Jones’ work best when she said “None of her plays are like any of her other plays.” Her imagination is not a room she goes to in her head; rather it’s the whole journey on any path that takes her to a new place. She finds the kernel of story in a women’s running team training to the music of Verdi’s operas, the speechifying of Mother Jones, the legend of Butch Cassidy or the Spirit Photographers of the American Spiritualist Movement in the 19th century.

Jones, who lives in Anchorage, began as a poet. Her volume of poems The Bandsaw Riots won the Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Award from Bear Star Press in 2000. In the years that followed, the voices took over and she broadened into a playwright. Dialogue is fast poetry. Jones is a shameless eavesdropper. She’s a completely unreliable narrator, a world class exaggerator and has a memory like a torn screen–these are her best writerly traits and she incorporates them all to get at the truth. Make that: The Truth. Her latest play, Summerland, will receive its world premiere in January 2017 at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. She’s also the founding co-director of TossPot Productions in Anchorage and a member of the Dramatists Guild.

Mother Jones: You’re my guard, are you? Well aren’t I just the fool? Here I thought I was addressing my Maker, the Almighty Lord who’s got the power, if not the authority to keep me locked up in this jail, who has the power to say when I eat and when I shit, when I stand, when I sit, and who I speak to and who I don’t. Used to be before I was put in this jail I had the sun and the moon put up in the sky free for everyone by the King of Heaven and Earth and that’s how I knew when to wake up and when to go to sleep but now I got Lord Shatterprick telling me when to rise and when to fall and, if that don’t sound like someone who thinks he’s God, then I’m nothing but a little ol’ woman who don’t know sick ‘em! But I do know my constitutional rights! (Hellraiser)

Introducing Nancy Lord

This week, I’d like to introduce you to an incredible person that I get to work with on a fairly regular basis. Nancy Lord isn’t just an amazing author, she’s an phenomenal teacher and environmental advocate.

Nancy Lord at the Denali Residency.
Nancy Lord at a residency at Denali National Park

Nancy Lord, a Homer writer of fiction and nonfiction, in the last thirty years has participated in 23 different artist residency programs, some of them multiple times. She has found that she writes as much in a one-month residency as she does in the other eleven months of a year (when “life” gets in the way.) Her writing mostly has an environmental bent, and her books include Fishcamp, Beluga Days, and Early Warming. Most recently she edited the anthology lord_coverMade of Salmon: Alaska Stories from the Salmon Project. Her novel, The Pteropod Gang, is forthcoming next year. She also teaches creative writing in Homer and in the low-residency M.F.A. program at the University of Alaska Anchorage and science writing in Johns Hopkins’ on-line graduate science writing program. She is a former Alaska Writer Laureate. She loves beachcombing, bird and wildlife watching, and libraries. Her webpage is

Introducing Katherine Gottlieb

KG head shot from Baldrige award grp shot_Dec_2014 cropped

Where to begin. President and CEO of Southcentral Foundation (SCF), 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, grandmother of twenty-seven or maybe it’s thirty now.

Those are just some of the facts. Here are two of my favorite stories about her.

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. I read it and thought, How wonderful for some lucky writer. Katherine read it and called me and said, “You should apply for that.” I said, “Are you crazy? They’d never take me.” She called again the next day and said “Did you apply?” And the next day. And the next day. A week later I said, “Okay, I’ll apply if you promise me you’ll shut up about it when they turn me down.” I applied, was immediately accepted and became one of Hedgebrook’s first residents in October 1988.

In 1993, my first Kate Shugak novel (Fun fact: Shugak is Katherine’s mom’s maiden name) was nominated for an Edgar Award. Katherine ditched her family to come to New York City to be my date at the awards ceremony. Before we went downstairs to the banquet, she gave me this ivory storyknife brooch:


storyknife brooch

I was wearing it when I won.

Hedgebrook, to which Katherine nagged me to apply, was the inspiration for Storyknife, and, with her gift of that brooch, she named it, too (see our logo at the top of the page). It seems only a natural progression of events that she is now a member of our Council of Advisors.

Meet Ernestine Hayes

It is my great pleasure and privilege to introduce you to Ernestine Hayes, an important member of our Advisory Board, as well as a fabulous writer! Ernestine spent this spring traveling around the state of Alaska as the first Alaska Reads! author. Her incredible spirit, stamina, and talent as a writer and teacher were in evidence at every stop along the path in dozens of communities.


Ernestine Hayes belongs to the Wolf House of the Kaagwaantaan. Her first book, Blonde Indian, an Alaska Native Memoir, was published in 2006 and was the selection for Alaska Reads 2016. Her essays, articles, short stories, and poetry have been published in Studies in American Indian LiteratureHuffington PostAlaska Quarterly ReviewTipton Review, and other forums, including selection of her poem “The Spoken Forest” for permanent installation at Totem Bight State Park. Her next book, The Tao of Raven, is forthcoming October 2016 by University of Washington Press. A grandmother and great-grandmother, she lives in Juneau.

In her first book, Blonde Indian, Ernestine Hayes powerfully recounted the story of returning to Juneau and to her Tlingit home after many years of wandering. The Tao of Raven takes up the next and, in some ways, less explored question: once the exile returns, then what?



And behind the curtain….

ladderThe dust is settling after the selection process for our first resident. Behind the scenes, the folks at Storyknife are starting to build the foundation of documents, timelines, and budgets that will allow us to launch a fully-formed fundraising campaign to secure the money to build the entire residency.

In order to do this, we’ve asked some dynamic  women to be part of the Storyknife Advisory Council. These advisers will help us by answering questions that arise as we move forward. They are a diverse and incredible group, and we are so proud that they’ve agreed to help us. Over the next few months, we’ll be featuring “Get to Know the Advisory Council” spots on the blog.

The second one will launch tomorrow. The first one featured Kathleen Alcalá, and tomorrow’s will feature Ernestine Hayes.

Meanwhile, it has become summer here on Kachemak Bay. Wild roses and lupine are blooming, gardens are starting to look promising, and we’ve all got sun in our eyes and dirt under our fingernails.

Introducing the first Storyknife Advisory Council:
Kathleen Alcalá
Debby Dahl Edwardson
Charlotte Fox
Katherine Gottlieb
Ernestine Hayes
Arlitia Jones
Janie Leask
Nancy Lord
Paula Martin
Hilary Morgan
Katrina Pearson
Peggy Shumaker
Sherry Simpson
Carol Swartz

Our First Storyknife Fellow

It was harder than we thought it would be. So many fine pieces of writing to consider. Over and over, we wished that we could offer more than one residency. We made ourselves a promise to get all six cabins built as quickly as possible so that we could provide more opportunities for women to explore their own voices, write novels and poems and essays.

rogers_kim_hiresThis September, Kim Steutermann Rogers will be in residence as the first Storyknife Fellow. She moved to Hawaii with her husband, two dogs, and twelve boxes of belongings in 1999. “We’ll stay for one year,” she told her family and friends. That was 17 years ago. Now, Kim shadows scientists into rainforests, volcanic craters, and throughout the uninhabited atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to learn more about Hawaii’s endemic—and often endangered—flora and fauna. But, most days, she sits on her bum and attempts to churn out words appropriate to the science and place and people of it all—and tells herself she should exercise more. Kim holds a Bachelor of Journalism from Missouri School of Journalism and a Master of Fine Arts in Nonfiction from Antioch University Los Angeles. She is at work on a book about Mark Twain’s Hawaii and the psychological concept of place attachment. You can read clips of her work and her blog at

We just couldn’t be more excited to host Kim while she explores her own writing to her heart’s content this September at Storyknife Writers Retreat, just outside Homer, Alaska.

Please do keep checking this blog for more information about the incredible members of our Advisory Council and how you can help Storyknife soar as a full-fledged writers’ residency for women. We’ll have exciting news unfolding all throughout the summer!

Meet Kathleen Alcalá

The Amazing Erin (I think that’s actually her real name) is even as we speak putting together a Council of Advisors for Storyknife. Allow me to introduce you to one of them.

KA w Dingus cropped copy.jpg

This is Kathleen Alcalá. She was a co-writer in residence when I was at Hedgebrook the first year it was open (we watched them raise the sixth cottage while we were there), and we have remained friends ever since. She teaches, and she writes magic realism with terrific titles (Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist is my favorite) and fiction as a product of a fascinating family history where she discovered Jewish ancestors fleeing the Inquisition had resettled in Mexico and gone underground so successfully that she grew up thinking they were Protestant.  She spoke about it on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

She learned that the cruel arm of the Spanish Inquisition reached Saltillo, her ancestral home in Northern Mexico. Her family arrived later, but she says this connection grounded her stew of heritage firmly into real history. Combining her Crypto-Jewish background with her also hidden native Opata ancestry gave Alcalá fodder for a rich trio of novels.

Kathleen was one of the first people I told about Storyknife, she was one of the writers to test drive the first cabin (the writers will have a hot plate because of her), and she was the first person I thought of when Erin sold me on the idea of the Council.

She also has a new book coming out in September.


She lives on Bainbridge Island in Washington state and I can tell you she sets a fine table. This book is a result of a years-long investigation of where that food comes from.

In The Deepest Roots, Alcalá walks, wades, picks, pokes, digs, cooks, and cans, getting to know her neighbors on a much deeper level. Wanting to better understand how we once fed ourselves, and acknowledging that there may be a future in which we could need to do so again, she meets those who experienced the Japanese American internment during World War II, learns the unique histories of the blended Filipino and Native American community, the fishing practices of the descendants of Croatian immigrants, and the Suquamish elder who shares with her the food legacy of the island itself.


Gratitude for the Leapers

When I was in my early thirties and getting ready to launch another cross-country move, a friend told me that I was a leaper. “Define that,” I challenged, to which he explained that leapers are the kind of folks who take a chance, put themselves out there for new experiences, explore the fringes of the world.

As of midnight last night there were 65 leapers who grabbed at the chance to be the first Storyknife Fellow for this September’s residency. Applicants range in experience and goals, state of residence and genres. There were even a few applicants from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, and plenty from what Alaskans like to call the “Lower-48.” At least 21 states were represented. To each of you who leapt, I want to express my gratitude. I hope that the process of putting together the application was as edifying for you as it has been for me in past. That you learned something about yourself and your work as you considered what to send and how to answer the questions we posed.

Now begins the jurying process. There are five jurors who will be dividing up the work, and each application will be read by a minimum of three people. This process will take two weeks, after which we’ll be notifying applicants of the decisions.

Please know how grateful we are for your belief in Storyknife. We believe in it as well, in the truth that all women’s voices are valuable and that your writing is important to the world.

Preparing the Cabin

hangingOn May 12th, we mounted the sign on the Frederica cabin, readying for September’s resident. The cabin has been named after Frederica de Laguna, an ethnologist, anthropologist, archeologist, and writer. William W. Fitzburgh writes, “De Laguna, known to friends and colleagues throughout her life as ‘Freddy,’ spent the first two decades of her professional life on comparative work of circumpolar art, on several syntheses of North American archaeology, and on research involving Alaskan archaeology, followed by 50 years of ethnographic study of northern Northwest Coast cultures in southeast Alaska.”

Freddy was a vanguard for women in working in the field and studying in the classroom. Her first expedition to Alaska was in 1930 when she was a 24-years-old. After she received her PhD, but before she secured a permanent teaching or research position, Freddy wrote several books for general audiences. Fitzburgh writes, “While waiting for a position to open at Bryn Mawr and preparing her Cook Inlet and Eyak reports, Freddy produced three books for general readers, all laced with anthropological insight. The first, published in 1930 and aimed at young adults, was titled The Thousand March: Adventures of an American Boy with Garibaldi; the story was based on G. M. Trevelyan’s account of the Italian patriot. Two detective stories followed: The Arrow Points to Murder (1937) and Fog on the Mountain (1938). She had a gift for the perfect phrase and the well-chosen word, and these skills, honed early in her upbringing.”

closeupThroughout her whole life, Freddy worked hard to break barriers and in 1976 she was elected into the National Academy of Sciences as the first woman, with former classmate Margaret Mead.

Steve Ferzacca, for the Penn Museum, writes of de Laguna, “Her work in Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet is considered definitive for an understanding of the archaeological record of southern Alaska (McClellan 1989). In 1949, she continued with her work among the cultures and peoples of southeastern Alaska, conducting research that combined the approaches of archaeology, history, and ethnography among the northern Tlingit communities of Yakutat, a village that lies in the shadow of Mount Saint Elias, and Angoon.  In 1996 Professor de Laguna returned to Yakutat to attend a gathering given in her honor by the Tlingit people among whom she had conducted research nearly fifty years earlier. Her invitation was sponsored by the Yakutat Camp of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, acting for the Yakutat tribe.”

Yakutat tribal elder Marie Abraham commented, “There are few people in her profession that have made such an impression with the people she wrote about. She became part of us. She became our Grandma. We love you. We thank you for all the gifts you have given us. You’ve given us the greatest gift that anybody could give a culture. You saved the songs. You gave them back to us.”

jobdoneWe’d like to thank Dave and Maddie Gerard for creating such a beautiful way to inaugurate our first cabin. Their incredibly detailed sign is a fitting tribute to Storyknife’s first cabin.

There are still two more days to apply for the first writing residency that will take place this September. You can apply at until midnight Alaska time on May 15th. We hope to notify the chosen applicant by email by June 5.

Your Words Matter

Last year, I was fortunate enough to spend an entire month at a writer’s residency in Washington. For four solid weeks, I wrote, wandered, read, wrote some more, revised, slept, and woke up the next day to do it all again. In one month, I wrote an entire poetry chapbook. It was an incredibly nurturing experience.

A writing residency is transformative. It changes your relationship to your work. When you take away the daily distractions, the internet, the children/spouse/friends, suddenly you are left face-to-face with the work. Terrifying and blissful. After a few days of panic, naps, and staring woefully at the walls, something begins to happen. You begin to write, deeply and sustainedly. You begin to have faith in your own story as a writer.

The Storyknife Writers Retreat honors the importance of women’s voices. What you have to write and share with the world matters. It matters so much that here at Storyknife, we think you should have an entire month to devote to it.

The application period for the first residency ends on May 15th at midnight, Alaska time (application). Just imagine that you have a month in this sweet cabin to learn to trust your own voice, your own writing. We’re so excited to make it happen for someone.

take care,


If you think that supporting women’s writing is important, please feel fee to donate using the yellow “Donate” button on this page. Thank you. Storyknife Writers Retreat is a registered 501(c)3 organization; all donations are tax deductible.