Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Poet Tom Sexton on the meaning of place and how he started to write distinctly Alaskan poems.
Alaska state writer Peggy Shumaker, in her role as experienced teacher and mentor, sharing the stories of five Alaskans who decided to pursue the MFA.
Don Rearden, ready to make us laugh as always, imagining an interview between an Alaska screenwriter and a Hollywood executive.
Joan Kane on top writing places, tools, and prompts: inspiration for a day when you just don't know how to get started.
Storyteller Brett Dillingham on a trip to a village north of the Arctic Circle.
Dana Stabenow confessing that's she a sci-fi geek (with the specifics on her favorite inspirations).
Susanna Mishler sharing a deliberately disobedient writing exercise called "negative inversion."
Marybeth Holleman remembering the Exxon Valdez oil spill, twenty years later.
Bill Sherwonit musing on the essays, and critiquing essay collections (with lots of suggestions for recommended readings).
Thanks to everyone who has shared their ideas and experiences with 49 writers. We hope to hear from you again, and we also hope to widen our circle to include the voices of new writers and readers.
Post-script: Thanks to everyone who responded -- we have lots of new voices as well as familiar friends planning to join us in 2012. With the featured author slots now filled, we can still use individual blogposts at any time. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
|49 Writers Board President Don Rearden|
will be featured in a free 49 Writers Reading and
Craft talk Dec. 8 at 7 pm Cafe Felix at Metro Books
Why 49 Writers?
A couple years ago, if you asked me about the literary community of Alaska I would have answered with my own question, "What community?"
Don't get me wrong, there was no shortage of literary talent in Alaska. What was missing was community. Either that or I just hadn't arrived as a writer yet and received my skeleton key or learned the secret handshake. We all know writing is itself a solitary and --- at times --- even a lonely endeavor. Writers by nature aren't the most gregarious of creatures. Heck, some of us even don't like our own species.
Still, we do, if I may be so bold to suggest, actually want to be around other writers, if only to be around someone who understands irony beyond Alanis Morissette's definition involving the desire for a knife when you've got several thousand spoons at your disposal.
While I've never even possessed more than twenty or so spoons at a given time, and perhaps a spork or two, I did jump at the opportunity to help start this cool little non-profit called the 49 Writers. I signed on as a member and later as a board of directors member because I wanted to be a part of something that sounded pretty amazing. I had no idea.
In just a few years I have made friendships that will ensure some one writes something powerful and/or funny at my wake, hopefully many many winters from now. I have forged connections with famous authors, not so famous authors, future authors, and more importantly cool Alaskan writers I can ski with, talk shop over coffee, or just borrow a knife should the need arise.
We're teaching young writers. We're supporting working writers. We're building a writing community, and not just here in Anchorage, but across the 49th State. There are more than forty-nine of us, too, and I hope you'll want to join our ranks and become a part of this. Sign up and become a member! Or if you're like me and behind on your membership dues, then join with me and renew today.
Don Rearden doesn't really need to borrow a knife. He's being sarcastic. He recently renewed his membership in hopes we'd teach him the secret handshake.
Friday, November 25, 2011
- Missed our course with award-winning author Melinda Moustakis? Not to worry – it’s now available as a podcast, thanks to media volunteer Jeff Oliver. There’s a link to the readings at the bottom of the sidebar on our home page
- From Kay Vreeland, in case you missed it last weekend, a Simpson episode in which Bart and Homer pen the next tween fantasy novel.
- If a writer seeks powerful inspiration, Dan Henry recommends a story called Writing Amidst the Ruins," by Elif Shafak. She tells the story on The Moth podcast November 14, 2011
- If you attended our April 1 Crosscurrents event, you heard Susan Orlean read from her new book Rin Tin Tin. She also appeared recently on The Colbert Report to talk about the book.
Visit www.wyakwriters.com or see our Facebook event for details.
Looking for a fun, informal gathering of writers? Want to hear more about craft and publishing? Look no farther than our free Reading and Craft Talks, debuting December 8 from 7–8.30pm at Café Felix/Metro Books with Don Rearden presenting “Writing is a Disease.” In this craft talk Rearden will share how he took a germ of an idea and cultured it into a full-blown epidemic novel, The Raven's Gift. Don Rearden is an Associate Professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage and is currently board president of 49 Writers. His poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in Ice-Floe, Chronogram, Cold Flashes, Copper Nickel, and Haunted Encounters. His films have aired on TMC and Showtime. His novel The Raven’s Gift, debuted with Penguin Canada in 2011.
It’s the season for giving, and we’ve got great ideas for the literary-minded on your list. Thanks to a generous donation by Tom Sexton, we’re offering limited edition autographed broadsides of two JohnHaines poems, “On the Road” and “Poem of the Forgotten.” All proceeds benefit the John Haines Memorial Poetry Fund, which will help finance the 2012 Synergies series, an exciting line-up of dynamic events featuring well-known poets. Another great gift option: 49Writers Gift Vouchers, good for one year on fees for classes, retreats, and other 49 Writers goodies.
For a comprehensive calendar of literary events throughout Alaska, visit http://www.alaskalitevents.com/.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
What to read after enjoying--or surviving-- a Thanksgiving with family? Here's one particularly relevant link: favorite "tense literature" and dysfunctional family narratives for the holiday, from Ploughshares.
Thanks again -- 49 Writers definitely wouldn't be here without you.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
This holiday season, we'll also be recycling a few favorite posts from the past. Rich Chiappone's post below originally ran on May 25, 2010. It combines literary thoughts with a personal, candid approach -- just the sort of thing we like to see from both featured authors and occasional guest-posters.
One recent restless night, set upon by a familiar coven of worries and regrets, I –having a wife who gets up and goes to work early every morning— wandered down to the spare bedroom and tried to get my mind under control by reading an old book of poems: Stanely Kuntiz’s Passing Through. In spite of the grim implications of that title (admittedly not the sort of thing for “dark night of the soul” browsing), I found there, on the first page of his introduction, a little encouragement. Kunitz says, “The poetic imagination lives by its contradictions and disdains any form of oppression, including the oppression of the mind by a single idea.” Wow. I must have one of those poetic imaginations, I thought, and knocked off to sleep in the guest bed, smugly reassured.
I needed to believe that just then. Last week, I finished correcting the proofs of my second collection, Opening Days. Having read it beginning to end for the first time, I have been a little horrified by the obvious fact that there is no single unifying idea in the book. Actually, I don’t seem too sure about any of the ones I’m trying on for size either. Contradictions? I’m all over the place.
There’s nothing like publishing a compilation of stories or essays written over a number of years to make a writer take a look in the mirror. I mean, you could argue that a single novel does not necessarily capture an author’s world view –written as novels are with a (more or less) unified thematic arc. But almost twenty pieces, written individually under the constantly changing circumstances of daily life is a little harder to deny. And the only constant in this collection of essays, stories and poems is that I’m constantly unsure about everything. So are my fictional characters --with the noticeable exception of one story that is peopled with adamant absolutists. You guessed: it’s a parody.
In the opening essay I start out whining about how much I hate winter (although I’ve lived in Alaska for nearly thirty years and have no intention of moving), and by the end of the same essay croon lovingly about this wonderful place. I talk about how I practically live for my annual tropical fishing trip, and then confess that I have never, in fact, even hooked the one specie I am mostly in pursuit of in those waters. I’m clearly ambivalent about my meat eating ethics (or lack of), but I poke vegetarians gleefully. I’m mostly certain that “catch-and-release” fishing is cruel and pointless, yet can’t wait to get back to it each summer. And so forth.
In TV shows, the police always get the truth out of suspects by peppering them with seemingly unrelated questions over a long period of time, sometimes letting an inquiry hang there a while (“Never mind,” the clever detective says to the criminal, “we’ll come back to that later.”) and always eventually trapping the fool in his own contradictions. Go ahead, compile a couple hundred pages written as autonomous pieces over six or eight years and see what happens to you.
Looking for validation for my uncertainties, I turn once again to a term coined by good old John Keats. (maybe that’s good “ode” Keats? Hah! I crack myself up, I swear.) He said (and, yes, I did have to look this up again) that a man should be able to be in a condition of uncertainty and doubt “without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”
As you would expect from a capital “R” Romantic, Keats finds reason and logic to be liabilities for the artist and poet. Ironically perhaps, some of us in the arts today find ourselves aligning now with hard science in various areas, particularly the evolution argument. One of my favorite thoughts from Nancy Lord’s Rock Water Wild comes from an essay in which she describes the frustration of a science-minded individual arguing with creationist critics; it goes something like this: You can not use reason to persuade a person to give up a belief he didn’t come to by way of reason.
I sort of like that fact that, once again, I want to have it both ways: hard science for the hard stuff like fossils, and sheer whimsy for all the rest. In any case, I know that I am happiest when I avoid people who know what they know is right. Personally, they scare me a little. I’ll put it this way: you have to be absolutely certain of your ideas to strap a bomb to yourself to make your point. Talk about “the oppression of the mind by a single idea”.
That much I know for sure. Maybe.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
Our thanks to 49 Writers member Lila Vogt for this report on “
Sokoya, I said looking through
the net of wrinkles into
wise black pools
of her eyes.
What do you say in Athabascan
when you leave each other?
What is the word
A shade of feeling rippled
the wind- tanned skin,
Ah, nothing, she said,
watching the river flash.
She looked at me close.
We just say Ttaa. That means,
We never leave each other.
When does your mouth
say goodbye to your heart?
She touched me light
as a bluebell.
You forget when you leave us;
you're so small then.
We don't use that word.
We always think you're coming back,
but if you don't
we'll see you someplace else.
There is no word for goodbye.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Wherever we go, we hear about young writers – kids and teens writing books, poetry, and more. On Monday, November 21, our WYAK writers group for ages 15-18 will meet from 6:30 – 8 pm at Teen Underground, and on Monday, November 28, our WYAK writers group for ages 12-14 will meet, also from 6:30-8 pm at Teen Underground. Visit www.wyakwriters.com or see our Facebook event for details.
Looking for a fun, informal gathering of writers? Want to hear more about craft and publishing? Look no farther than our free Reading and Craft Talks, debuting December 8 from 7 – 8:30 pm at Café Felix/Metro Books with Don Rearden presenting “Writing is a Disease.” In this craft talk Rearden will share how he took a germ of an idea and cultured it into a full blown epidemic novel, The Raven's Gift. Don Rearden is an Associate Professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage and is currently board president of 49 Writers. His poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in Ice-Floe, Chronogram, Cold Flashes, Copper Nickel, and Haunted Encounters. His films have aired on TMC and Showtime. His novel The Raven’s Gift, debuted with Penguin Canada in 2011.
It’s the season for giving, and we’ve got great ideas for the literary-minded on your list. Thanks to a generous donation by Tom Sexton, we’re offering limited edition autographed broadsides of two John Haines poems, “On the Road” and “Poem of the Forgotten.” All proceeds benefit the John Haines Memorial Poetry Fund, which will help finance the 2012 Synergies series, an exciting line-up of dynamic events featuring well-known poets. Another great gift option: 49Writers Gift Vouchers, good for one year on fees for classes, retreats, and other 49 Writers goodies.
Recently, two Alaska writers were among only five singled out by a major literary website. A Rasmuson Foundation post this week honors these recipients of Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award grants, our own Andromeda Romano-Lax and Eowyn Ivey.
For a comprehensive calendar of literary events throughout Alaska, visit http://www.alaskalitevents.com/.
Tonight, Friday November 18, 7pm, the English Graduate Organization (EGO) of Fairbanks presents a special Literary Reading, featuring Jody Hassel (Non Fiction), Cody Kucker (Poetry) and Chris Miles (Poetry). Bear Gallery; free and open to the public.
The Alaska Center for the Book is seeking an enthusiastic, organized individual to serve as the Reading Rendezvous Event Coordinator. This free, outdoor literacy fair, jointly sponsored by the Anchorage Public Library and the Alaska Center for the Book, will be held on Saturday, May 12, 2012, on the Loussac Library grounds.
Position responsibilities include:
Twice-monthly meetings with committee members
Working closely with Library staff.
Conducting outreach to local media outlets and serving as spokesperson for the event.
Recruiting and coordinating booth participants.
Directing all activity onsite the night before and all day during the event.
Other duties as assigned by the committee.
There is a small stipend paid for by the Alaska Center for the Book. Interested individuals may submit their resume to Sherri Douglas by December 1, 2011.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
The winners were:
FICTION: Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury USA)
NONFICTION: Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern(W. W. Norton & Company)
POETRY: Nikky Finney, Head Off & Split (TriQuarterly, an imprint of Northwestern University Press)
YOUNG PEOPLE'S LITERATURE: Thanhha Lai, Inside Out & Back Again(Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)
The NBA site promises an interview with Debby Dahl Edwardson, to come soon, so check back for that.
And in the meanwhile, a silly question for a cold, cold day: If you received that National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, or Academy Award, who would you thank first? (One name only, not the Oscar-length list that makes the audience squirm.)
If your speech could draw attention to one issue or thought, what would it be: the fate of the book? The state of publishing, or education? Or would you tell us something more personal: why you became a writer in the first place? What that first small-town library meant to you as a kid? Go ahead, practice those short speeches here, if you're brave. We'll clap.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
I've made people uncomfortable by talking openly about writing and money in the past. I've given gloomy speeches about publishing (somewhere between 70 to 95% of books don't earn back their advances; the typical advance is only $5,000; a huge advance is great in the short-term but can spell doom to a writer's reputation in the long-run, etc.) that beginning writers don't want to hear. I've broken off an already iffy friendship in part after being told, one time too many, that I should get a real job (this just a year or so before my first novel sold), and that I'd be better off working at BP in order to get health insurance (not that they'd hire me, and not that I'd trade my love of literature for any form of security or any kind of long-term job that didn't fulfill me).
I'd finally gotten the message -- that I should keep my pragmatic-money-talk to myself. And then the 99% movement hit. Now, every time I turn on the radio, there are wonderful, detailed explanations of who earns what (the top 1% hold over a third of all wealth), and since when (the 1980s were a major turning point when the stock market instead of inherited and other forms of old-style wealth became the most significant kind). I got a major in public policy and a minor in economics; I can't get enough of these details. No class divisions in this country? Since when? No class warfare until recently? Hah!
I recently enjoyed listening to the opinions of a high-earning friend tell my husband, an outdoor educator, that teachers earn too much. Never mind how important teachers are to society -- if there's too much supply, they should be paid peanuts in order to reduce that supply, our friend informed us. That's bad enough, but even worse is the fact that my husband earns less than a typical teacher's modest salary, because for twenty years he has chosen to work in nonformal settings, for the government and museums. He specializes in that kind of teaching, much of it outside in all kinds of crazy weather, because he believes that kids learn really well outside the classroom. He does what he loves -- a job that serves our community -- and he doesn't get paid well for it. Every year, we ponder this fact and decide all over again that he's really good at what he does and that there is no better place for him to do it than the great place where he works now.
We're a good match, considering that I, too, have toiled in low-paid obscurity. We accepted that fact formally when we married, and even had a line from the Talmud inscribed in our wedding rings that refers to the fact that where love is strong, a man and a woman can make their bed "on the blade of a sword." (Rolling over can get tricky, but one gets used to it over the years.) With our twentieth anniversary right around the corner, I just dipped into whatever weekend getaway fund we might have tapped, because I just returned from getting the car fixed after it died in midmorning traffic (again -- it was just in the shop last Thursday). I can only say I'm thrilled my debit payment made it through. We live by the skin of our teeth, and always have.
So why am I telling you all this? Not just because of the 99% movement. But because a fellow writer took me aside a few months ago to tell me something that I wouldn't bother sharing, except that it might make the difference to someone out there.
This fellow writer let me know that she'd always assumed, based on my long-term dedication to writing and my strong opinions and my willingness to take certain risks in the projects I pursue, that I was married to a rich man who supported us. A lawyer or something. (For the first time in my life, I literally did a double-take, head swinging left and right in confusion. My Brian? I started laughing. Haven't you noticed how we dress? Us, wealthy? I could barely get enough gas money together this week.)
Actually, I'm the bigger wage-earner in our family. On top of that, my income varies hugely. I've earned $1000 a month for long stretches. And I've earned $8000 or more a month (it went just as quickly as the $1000 -- a lesson I'm still struggling to absorb). The norm is at the low end of that middle range. When I was 18 years old, I set the goal of earning $30,000 a year from my writing within a decade. Some years I've made ten times that amount, and sometimes less than half, but I've never given up. The 18-year-old who thought no one could live on less than 30K has become the 40-year-old who thinks that simplicity is a great goal for more reasons than the financial ones.
For the last decade, most of my income --80%-- has come from my creative writing, most of it fiction. The rest, over the years, has come from journalism, technical writing and editing, a little teaching. But again, most of it from the writing that I care the most about: novels.
Compared to the average writer (who, according to one very outdated Author's Guild survey, earns about $5000 a year), I'm doing way better than average. And I'm grateful for it. I've gone without -- without dental and medical care, without floor and roof repairs, without college or retirement savings, without a second car even with a teen in the house, without money for kids' camps (I'm thrilled that they've learned how to pay for those extras themselves), without peace of mind except the peace of mind that comes from doing the only job I truly love-- in order to get there.
When the economy is doing well and everyone seems to be rolling in dough, it feels perilous to be a writer. When people suddenly realize that nearly all of us live on the edge -- and that even a fat stock portfolio is no guarantee of long-term security -- then at least a writer feels less alone, and people understand why you pack a lunch or can't afford symphony tickets.
The truth is, no amount of money is ever enough. I've had astonishing windfalls that were immediately sucked up by taxes and big purchases (a house, a major research trip), and I've had long spells of very little money where we somehow eked by, grateful for even the most modest, unexpected royalty check. (Thank you, Poland.)
I share this in case you are wondering how full-time writers manage, and thinking they have some secret stash -- a wealthy spouse, a big trust fund. Most of us don't have that. We write and freelance and teach and get a grant here or there and pray for foreign sales or a movie option or some other lucky break and we write some more. If we're smart, we live with a low overhead (see the Fitzgerald advice of a week ago). If we're not smart (and I'm not smart but still trying), we waste quite a bit of money on credit card interest, rationalizing that every small business needs financing of some kind.
We writers and artists will always be the "99%." To be honest, I never expected it to be any different.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
On Building Tension, Final Days for Certain Dogs, and Keeping at Writing: A Guest Post by Jo-Ann Mapson
Monday, November 14, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
Thursday, November 10, 2011
But wait -- tonight is 49 Writers Open Mic night! If you plan to go, read on. If you attended and are reading this later, tell us how it went, what you experienced, what you learned. Several of my 49 Alaska Writing Center students reported being nervous at the last reading they did, but all said it was a great experience.
I scanned the web for Open Mic tips and here are a few I found-- and agree with:
1. Obey the time limit provided. Time yourself in advance, and don't exceed. Better to leave your audience wanting more, not less.
2. Plan not to apologize, over-explain, or waste the audience time with too much nervous preamble. A quick hello in order to bond with the audience, a sentence or two at most to give the piece a bit of context (but only a very little bit!) and then get reading.
3. Print out your pages. Reading from a laptop or other gadget is distracting and unreliable. If there is a time for your computer to freeze, this will be it.
4. Format your pages. Whether or not you have middle-age eyes, it can be helpful to print your reading in larger font. Number the pages in case you drop them at the last minute. BOLD any sections where you want to slow down, or make other performance notations as needed. The experts say you shouldn't staple the pages -- turning them makes too much sound.
5. Practice. Read to your pets or your plants or your friends.
6. Go slow. And if there is a microphone, don't do the old "I don't need this thing" shtick -- you probably do. Unless the mic is buzzing and squeaking. Then step away and project.
7. And most of all, try to enjoy. The audience wants to see you succeed. Nine times out of ten, you will feel nerves and hear tremors that they can't perceive.
But you knew all that, right? Now tell us how it went!
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
The Anchorage Daily News reported on a workshop that was held for about 35 Alaska artists who had previously received awards from the Rasmuson Foundation, one of USA's partner organizations, to show them how to use the site. Rasmuson also recently announced that they are willing to match up to $2,500 for each of up to ten projects pitched on the site by Alaskans.
The Dailys News article explains: "The website lets artists raise money for new creative work by "crowdsourcing," which is to say high-tech public begging. The idea combines social media and micro-philanthropy." Originally made available only to winners of USA awards, the project has more recently opened up to include efforts of local and regional art award winners, including Rasmuson grant recipients. Two Alaskans, filmmaker Andrew MacLean and composer John Luther Adams, have successfully used the website to raise money for their projects.
My question for you: Do you plan to use this website, or have you thought about using similar Kickstarter-type sites? Would you be willing to donate to another artist's project, or do you find such requests annoying or offensive? I'm wondering, in particular, how literary projects fit. I can more easily imagine people donating to the creation of a community play, film, or visual art exhibit, for example, than to a writer's more solitary and independent writing project. But what if a small donation earned you a later book copy? In this day of shrinking advances and diminishing publisher support, does social media-powered fundraising offer writers a way to get their writing projects off the ground?
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
|49 Writers volunteer Lizbeth Meredith|
Interviewing the author Jack de Yonge of Boom Town Boys was nice. His sincere enthusiasm for his work was contagious.