Introducing Carol Swartz


If you’re a writer in the state of Alaska, you are probably well aware of the indefatigable Carol Swartz because of the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference which she wrangles into magnificence each year. You might not know how influential she’s been in several nonprofits in Homer, or how she started out her work in Alaska in social work with women’s issues. Carol is just a force of nature, and it brings me great joy that she has agreed to be part of the Storyknife Advisory Council.

Carol has been the Director of UAA’s Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College since 1986, overseeing its many programs and services. As such, she is also the Director of the highly-acclaimed annual Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference. Previously, she was the founding Director of Haven House, Co-Director/Clinician of the initial local Community Mental Health Center and the Kenai Peninsula’s first Guardian ad Litem.

Carol is a member of several non-profit organizations including Kachemak Bay Rotary Club and has served on several area and statewide Boards of Directors. She was a co-founder of Bunnell Street Arts Center and served on its board for twenty years.  She has been a trustee of the Homer Foundation since it was formed in 1991.

In 2013 she was honored with the University of Alaska Meritorious Service Award, and in 2012 she received the  Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts and Humanities. Other recognitions include the 2009 Alaska Center for the Book “CLIA” Award and the 2009 Homer Woman of Distinction.

Introducing Hilary Morgan

Hilary MorganI hope you are all enjoying meeting the amazing women on the Storyknife Advisory Council. How inspiring is Hilary Morgan? Very inspiring. She’s an advocate for women, an incredible business person, and an award-winning songwriter. This woman can do anything!

Hilary A. Morgan is the CEO of YWCA Alaska. She is nationally recognized as a leader in the fields of homelessness, housing, diversity and women’s issues. No stranger to the for-profit world Morgan spent her younger years on Wall Street and founded several businesses, the latest being Resourceful Results, LLC, a program and systems architecture company specializing in transformational solutions to persistent social justice challenges with clients in New York, Washington, DC and Alaska. She currently is spearheading EconEquity, an initiative to eliminate the gender pay gap in Alaska by 2025.

Among her numerous awards and achievements are a Rockefeller Next Generation Leadership Fellowship, the Mayor’s Award for Public Service (Anchorage, AK), the Citizen of the Year Award by the National Social Workers Association and the YWCA/BP Alaska Woman of Achievement award. Morgan is also the author of Nuts and Bolts of Effective Task Force Development: An Analysis of a Community Task Force on Homelessness and producer of Homeward Bound, A Way to a Better Life. An accomplished musician and composer, Ms. Morgan is also a recipient of the APRN Song of the Year award and has released two albums, Follow Your Dreams and Friends Like You.

Introducing Debby Dahl Edwardson

Debby Dahl EdwardsonEvery week, we’ve been posting introductions to the amazing women on Storyknife’s Advisory Council, and every week the feedback is just so encouraging. We are glad that you think these women are top-notch; we think so, too! This week, we’d like to introduce you to Debby Dahl Edwardson. She sent us the following fabulous introduction, and we are so pleased that she’ll be helping us make Storyknife a reality.

I tell people I’m a late bloomer. I published my first book at the age of 50. I was 61 when my third book was named a finalist for the National Book Award. In truth, however, I’ve always been a writer. I was the kid who gave people poems and stories for presents. I was the English major who wrote stuff for hire. I returned to fiction later in life because fiction takes more time and a larger canvas than I was afforded as a younger woman.

I live at the Top of the World—Barrow—and am married into the Iñupiaq community. My husband George Edwardson and I have seven kids and nine grandchildren.

I used to count the years I’ve lived in Barrow, but now I simply say that I came here as a very young woman and have lived here ever since—nearly forty years. Most of the stories I write are set within an Iñupiaq cultural context. It is not the culture I was not born into but it is the one I belong to, the one that has become home to me as a human being and as an artist.

I write for young people because it’s an audience I love and respect. They have open minds and joyful hearts. As Madeline L’Engle once said, “If I have something that is too difficult for adults to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children.” Children will not tolerate navel gazing for the sake of navel gazing. They want a good story and they don’t care how holy you are or many starred reviews you’ve gotten or how many awards you’ve won. If you do not deliver the story, they will be the first to point out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

I like that about young readers.

My books have earned a number of stars and awards and have even been named to a few prestigious lists, but that’s not the point, is it?

EasyOMy birth family is Norwegian and I have lived in Norway and speak the language, as well, although it’s rather rusty these days. I came into my own as an artist on the island in northern Minnesota where I spent my summers as a child. I have recently started a writing retreat there for children’s writers called LoonSong. Because writing is a lonely profession and we need other writers once in a while. We need to be amongst our own tribe to regenerate ourselves. This is what I got when I attended Hedgebrook, what I am extending through LoonSong and what I look forward to being a part of with Storyknife.

I’ve worked in everything from waitressing to PR to journalism. I am currently teaching literature and history as an adjunct at Ilisagvik College and writing online at I serve on the boards of the North Slope Borough School District, Ilisagvik College and the Alaska Association of School Boards.

Introducing Janie Leask

Janie Leask

My path crossed with Janie Leask’s almost immediately after she moved to Homer. She jumped into the community with both feet, and to be honest the first time I met her, I was completely blown away with her magnetism, strength, and power. She an innovator, a connector, and a strong advocate for the power of women. She’ll be an excellent addition to the Storyknife Advisory Council.

Janie’s life can be described by her favorite quote which defines the “Good Life” as “living in the place you belong, with the people you love, doing the ‘right work’ on purpose.”

Janie loves the spirit of community building. A lifelong Alaskan and a CIRI shareholder, she is Haida-Tsimshian and Irish-German and was raised in both Metlakatla and Anchorage. She has one son, David, who joined her in being formally adopted into the Tsimshian Eagle Clan where she received her Tsimshian name of Gytem Wilgoosk which means “person of wisdom.”

Janie started her career working as a clerk-typist at the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN). During her 15 years with AFN, she held various support positions before being elected President – a position she held for seven years. Following her tenure at AFN, she went on to work at National Bank of Alaska, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, and First Alaskans Institute.

Janie’s always believed in getting involved and giving back and over the years has served on local and statewide boards as well as co-chairing two gubernatorial campaigns. But it’s her work in furthering understanding between urban and rural Alaska that she’s most proud, especially the trips she helped organize to rural villages by members of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.

janie_and_fishJanie, and her husband Don, moved to Homer in 2013. They’re enjoying their new home and have spent time exploring Kachemak Bay, fishing for all species, and showing off their new community to friends and family. Don volunteers with local organizations cleaning up the trail system. Janie spends her days taking pictures, meeting friends for coffee, and playing Pickleball.

She currently serves on the board of Haven House, the local women’s shelter and keeps her finger on the pulse of statewide public policy issues. She truly is living the “Good Life.”

Introducing Peggy Shumaker

Shumaker photoPeggy Shumaker has been an integral part of the Alaska literary community for three decades. I dare say that there is not a writer in the state that she has not helped, even when they don’t know it. Her enthusiasm and generosity know no bounds. It is such a privilege to have her be part of the Storyknife Advisory Council.

Peggy Shumaker writes poetry and nonfiction. She’s putting together a new and selected collection of poems, Touching What’s Wild.  She edits the Boreal Books Series through Red Hen Press and the Alaska Literary Series with University of Alaska Press.  She’s been fortunate over the years to receive a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and recognition as the Artsmith Artist of the Year.  In 2014, The Rasmuson Foundation selected her as their Distinguished Artist.  She has served as Alaska State Writer Laureate.  Professor emerita from University of Alaska Fairbanks, she teaches now in the Rainier Writing Workshop.  She lives in Fairbanks with her beloved Joe Usibelli.  Please visit her website at

Excerpt from “Geology of Wonder” part of Sparks: A Conversation in Poems and Poetry, forthcoming in Touching What’s Wild and featured in the Alaska Quarterly Review.

Shaped by forces way underneath,
shaped gradually by grinding,
shaped over eons by rivers of ice,
shaped by wind, by rain, by eruption, by season
after season of snow, some melting, some packing down
evidence of how this mountain came to be
what it is this instant, how
this mountain changes each breath

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