Alaska Sampler 2014

Debra Vanasse

Would the real Alaska please stand up? This was the challenge put to ten of Alaska's finest authors: to share unique and intimate perspectives--some previously published, some new to this volume--that reach beyond the usual stereotypes to an Alaska that can't be packaged or staged. These stories, musings, and rants come from authors whose roots run deep in the Far North. There's Dana Stabenow, author of more than thirty novels, who was raised on 75-foot fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska--she knew there had to be a warmer, drier job out there somewhere. And there's David Marusek, who writes full time in his low-maintenance cabin near Fairbanks, Alaska, producing fiction that's "ferociously smart, [and] simultaneously horrific and funny," according to Publishers Weekly. The Alaska Sampler features memoir by Leigh Newman, whose Great Alaskan Dad taught her to fish, hunt, curl up and play dead in the case of curious black bears, and to throw up artfully in the hood of parka while flying in a single prop plane. Another memoir comes from Jan Harper Haines, whose stories of floods and ghosts were passed down by her Koyukon Athabascan mother. From forty-five years in Alaska, including twelve as editor of the Anchorage Daily News, Howard Weaver takes a fresh look at how the state is changing (and not for the better). Another longtime Alaskan, Kaylene Johnson, recounts a death-defying journey by adventurer Dick Griffith. On the lighter side, science writer Ned Rozell gives voice to one of Alaska's ubiquitous ravens, who has a score or two to settle with us humans. In fiction, longtime Alaskan Deb Vanasse writes of a woman obsessed with a glacier, while Don Rearden transports us to the tundra with a story that sheds light on everyday struggles in rural Alaska. In novel excerpts by Tanyo Ravicz, a young family faces violent weather, wild bears, illness, isolation, and the intrusion of poachers on Kodiak Island. Long after you finish, the stories, characters, and images of these authors will linger. Be forewarned: you'll want to read more.
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About the author

At age twenty-one, Deb Vanasse was dropped by a bush pilot on a gravel runway in middle of the Alaska wilderness. No roads, no houses, no cars, no people--only a winding brown slough and tundra spread flat as the prairie. She had come not for adventure but to live, an isolating but enriching experience that inspires her work. Between her mountain home and a glacier-based cabin, she continues to enjoy Alaska's wild places. The author of more than a dozen books for readers of all ages, she is co-founder of the 49 Alaska Writing Center.

Author David Marusek writes science fiction full time in his low-maintenance cabin near Fairbanks, Alaska. According to Publisher's Weekly, "Marusek's writing is ferociously smart, simultaneously horrific and funny, as he forces readers to stretch their imaginations and sympathies." His work has appeared in Playboy, Nature, MIT Technology Review, Asimov's, and other periodicals and anthologies and has been translated into ten languages. His two published novels and clutch of short stories have won the Theodore Sturgeon and Endeavour awards and earned numerous nominations. He is currently at work on a novel about love, faith, and space alien invasion in the Alaskan bush.

Dana Stabenow was born in Anchorage and raised on 75-foot fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska. She knew there was a warmer, drier job out there somewhere. She is the author of 30 novels, many essays and short stories and anything else anyone will pay her for.

Leigh Newman was raised in Alaska by a Great Alaskan Dad...and in Baltimore, Maryland, by A Great, Former Alaskan Mom, moving back and forth between her two parents. As child, she learned to fish, hunt, curl up and play dead in the case of curious black bears, and throw up artfully in the hood of parka while flying in a single prop plane. As an adult she regularly teaches that same skill set to her two boys. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Vogue, Real Simple, O The Oprah Magazine, Bookforum and many other publications.

Howard Weaver was born in Anchorage, attended public schools there and worked in Alaska until he was 45. He tried construction, dishwashing and commercial fishing before settling into his lifetime work as a journalist. He worked at the Anchorage Daily News from 1967 -- 1995, including 12 years as the editor, and worked on both the paper's Pulitzer Prize series. He details his time in the Alaska Newspaper War in the memoir Write Hard, Die Free.

Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska. His experiences with the Yup'ik culture shaped both his writing and his worldview. His critically acclaimed novel The Raven's Gift was named a 2013 Notable Fiction selection by The Washington Post.

Kaylene Johnson is a writer and long-time Alaskan who lives in Eagle River, Alaska. She writes non-fiction, biography, and memoir including A Tender Distance: Adventures Raising Sons in Alaska. Her award winning essays and articles have appeared in the Louisville Review, Alaska magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and several Alaska anthologies. She holds a BA from Vermont College and an MFA in Writing from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.

Tanyo Ravicz grew up in California. He attended Harvard University and settled for many years in Alaska, mainly in Fairbanks and Kodiak. In Alaska he worked as (among other things) a wildland firefighter, cannery hand and schoolteacher. His novel-in-progress, Wildwood, draws on his experience of homesteading with his family on Alaska's Kodiak Island. Tanyo's classic short novel Ring of Fire, which explores the conflict between an Alaskan big-game hunting guide and the Crown Prince of Rahman, will be released in a new digital edition in 2014. His books include A Man of His Village, relating the odyssey of a migrant farm worker from Mexico to Alaska, and Alaskans, a selection of his short fiction.

Jan (Petri) Harper Haines is Koyukon Athabascan, Russian, Irish and Dutch-German. Her non-fiction has appeared in First Alaskans Magazine, West Marin Review, Alaskan Embers and Cirque. She is currently working on Jimmy's Song, a novel of suspense set in Anchorage and the Matanuska Valley.

A biologist once told Ned Rozell that Alaska contains large chunks of nothingness because of two things -- bugs and cold air. He has cursed both in a few decades of wandering ice and muskeg but has hiked on due to the fact that he just can't figure out how wolves get enough to eat.

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Additional Information

Debra Vanasse
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Published on
May 20, 2014
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Literary Collections / General
Travel / General
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