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

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.