At 49 Writers, we are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Frank Soos, beloved board member and program chair, whose contributions to Alaska’s writing community have been generous and sustained for over three decades. His wisdom, experience and steady guidance on the board were invaluable to us, and his loss leaves a big space to fill.
Even before joining the board, Frank’s presence in the 49 Writers community was much treasured and admired. His workshops on the art of the essay were always popular, and always full. His encouragement and calm manner helped build our confidence, and his incisive critiques helped build our craft. Above all, he took our writing seriously, and moved us to take it seriously, too.
I count myself among the many fortunate ones who benefited from Frank’s gifts as a teacher. Newly retired after years of legal writing, I wanted “to write” but was adrift about what that meant. I signed up for one of Frank’s early essay workshops, which was scheduled over two weekends. The first weekend we studied the genre and worked on prompts. For the second weekend, Frank assigned us a full-length piece and asked us if we’d rather gather to share them together or set up individual consultations with him. Unanimously, we chose the latter.
I will always remember the quiet reverie of sitting with Frank as he worked slowly through my clunky draft, pausing to ask questions and seek clarity, as if what I had written was the most important thing in the world, and making it better was essential not just for me, but for him. I imagine everyone else in the class received the same careful treatment and felt the same uplift. He was that kind of teacher.
The experience of Frank’s class opened a door for me to the intricate, engaging world of the personal essay, for which I’ve always been grateful. And Frank became my mentor, whether he knew it or not. His messages of support over the years always came at just the right time, and his own writings always inspired. When he emailed me a year ago to express interest in joining the 49 Writers board, I knew we had hit the jackpot.
Over the past year, Frank’s strong commitment to Alaska’s writers continued to reveal itself as he hosted readings, organized classes, and offered his advice on the finer points of non-profit management. We were pinning down the details of our fall schedule the week he died – trying to decide, given the state of the pandemic, whether to shift our public events back to virtual ones. We agreed that indoor events would, in his words, “not be wise.” But characteristically, he still wanted to bring people together. In the last message I received from him, just a week ago now, he urged an outcome befitting the true Alaskan he was: “is there any possibility of an outside venue? A park maybe? …maybe there is still hope for some in-person contact.” For Frank, the camaraderie and friendship of a creative community were as important to a full writer’s life as words on the page. Even if it meant standing in the cold.
In Frank’s honor, 49 Writers will continue to seek ways to bring Alaskan writers together to tell the stories we need to tell in the best way we can tell them. We will dedicate our 2021-2022 season of programming to his memory and seek other ways to preserve his legacy. But most of all, we will recommit to doing what he always, kindly but emphatically, urged us to do: keep writing.
Thank you, Frank, for everything.
IN THE MIDDLE OF THINGS
Before knowing, I sent you a
message, latest of many, for
your clarity and calm counsel,
here in the middle of things.
Today, message unanswered,
plans unfinished, I stare at the
screen where we last spoke,
as if I might find you there, waiting
as if I might still let you in.
49 Writers, Inc.