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 www.kimsrogers.com.

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.

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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.

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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 https://storyknifewritersretreat.submittable.com/submit 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,
Erin

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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.

And so it begins!

cabinToday is the opening of the call for submissions for the very first official Storyknife Writers Residency which will take place during the month of September. On ten acres of view property just outside Homer, Alaska, Storyknife will be one of the very few residencies for women writers in the English-speaking world.  Eventually, the facility will include six private cabins, a main house, and a garden. Currently, one fully-equipped writers’ cabin has been built with a stunning view overlooking Cook Inlet, Mount Iliamma, Mount Douglas, and Mount Augustine.

Starting today, women writers over 21 years of age can apply for a September residency in the Storyknife cabin. This residency will can be 2-4 weeks, and for each week she is in residency, the inaugural Fellow will receive a $250 stipend to cover food and transportation costs. The inaugural fellow will need a vehicle and will be responsible for cooking most of her own meals. The residency is about eight miles from the town of Homer, Alaska.

Applications will be accepted until May 15 at Submittable. There is a $25 application fee. Jurying will be done by a committee of writers and is a blind process to ensure fairness.

Please feel free to email me at  if you have any questions about the residency or the submission process. I am so very very excited that we are on our way.

If you are not interested in applying for the residency, but are interested in supporting the building of the entire Storyknife Writers Residency and want to know more about what that looks like, read more about it here and donate using that big yellow button on the right side of the page.

We’re pretty excited about this. Hope you are as well!

Storyknife Fellow Residency Announced

The first official Storyknife Writers Residency will be awarded this spring for a residency during the month of September. On ten acres of view property just outside Homer, Alaska, Storyknife will be one of the very few residencies for women writers in the English-speaking world. Eventually, the facility will include six private cabins, a main house, and a garden. Currently, one fully-equipped writer’s cabin has been built with a stunning view overlooking Cook Inlet, Mount Iliamma, Mount Douglas, and Mount Augustine

Starting on April 15, women writers over 21 years of age will be able to apply for a September residency in the Storyknife cabin. This residency will can be 2-4 weeks, and for each week she is in residency, the inaugural fellow will receive a $250 stipend to cover food and transportation costs. Applications will be accepted starting on April 15 until May 15. The application will be open HERE on April 15.

The vision of award-winning novelist Dana Stabenow, Storyknife seeks to support women writers by providing uninterrupted time for development of their craft. In 1989, Stabenow was awarded a residency at Hedgebrook, a writers retreat for women on Whidbey Island in Washington. The profound impact of that residency, and the fact that Hedgebrook receives many more applications that they have spots to host writers, has inspired her to develop such an opportunity for women writers on property outside of Homer, Alaska.

Storyknife Writers Retreat is a registered 501(c)3.

Introducing a new member of the Storyknife team!

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, Traveler was 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!

Floor Plans

Courtesy of Scott, Our Builder, see the floor plans for the main house and the cabins. Click on the images to enlarge.

Floor plans for the house, where the onsite manager/chef will live and where the writers will gather for dinner each evening.
Floor plans for the house, where the onsite manager/chef will live and where the writers will gather for dinner each evening.
Not quite an exact representation of what the house will look like furnished. But close.
Not quite an exact representation of what the house will look like furnished. But close. The dinner table is the most important piece of furniture here.
And the cabin. All the mod cons, plus a built-in counter top-style desk across the west wall, where all the great work will be done.
And the cabin. All the mod cons, plus a built-in counter top-style desk across the west wall, where all the great work will be done.
And again, a representation of the cabin furnished. This is where the writers will spend their days working. All they have to do is look up from their keyboards to see Cook Inlet and Iliamna and Redoubt. An inspirational view if ever there was one. Just ask me.
And again, a representation of the cabin furnished. This is where the writers will spend their days working. All they have to do is look up from their keyboards to see Cook Inlet and Iliamna and Redoubt. An inspirational view if ever there was one. Just ask me.

Storyknife at Anchorage Rotary

My friend Kara snapped this at the event yesterday and very sneakily uploaded it to Twitter.
My friend Kara snapped this at the event yesterday and very sneakily uploaded it to Twitter.

[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.

Thank you.