49 Writers | Honoring Gary H. Holthaus

We’re glad to partner with Alaska Quarterly Review and the Alaska Humanities Forum on a two-part retrospective celebration of one of Alaska’s most important thinkers and writers, Gary Holthaus. Gary’s been active as a writer and citizen for decades, as the bio below illustrates.

A long-time home literary events, Great Harvest Bread Co. in Anchorage will host the readings tonight and tomorrow. New board member Barbara Hood owns the bakery with her husband; they’ve hosted a great number of 49 Writers Reading & Craft Talks Series events over the years and organized Poetry Month broadside benefit events in April. Canadian writer Anne Hébert said “I believe in solitude broken like bread by poetry.” For the next couple of days at the bakery, we can have bread and poetry together in community, a hearty recipe sure to leaven any subsequent solitude.

Below is a biography of Gary, and more info about the events. If you’re anywhere near Anchorage, I hope you’ll join us. We’d also love to read some of your Gary Holthaus memories and thoughts in the comments to this post.


Jeremy Pataky
49 Writers, Inc.

Gary H. Holthaus is a former National Endowment for the Arts Fellow and the author of eight poetry collections and chapbooks including Unexpected Manna (Copper Canyon Press) and Circling Back (Gibbs Smith) and three books of nonfiction, Wide Skies: Finding a Home in the West (University of Arizona Press); Learning Native Wisdom: What Traditional Cultures Teach Us about Subsistence, Sustainability, and Spirituality (University Press of Kentucky); and From the Farm to the Table: What All Americans Need to Know about Agriculture (University Press of Kentucky).

Holthaus first came to Alaska in 1964 to teach school in Naknek. He worked for Alaska Methodist University where one of his projects was to help Alaska Native students remain in school. Later, he became the first Director of the state’s bilingual education effort and helped put together Alaska’s bilingual education law. Gary was the Founding Director of the Alaska Humanities Forum, and for nearly 20 years he developed many of their ongoing programs. His official connection to Alaska Quarterly Review (AQR) began in 1985 when he, alongside Ronald Spatz, Nora Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer, helped edit the first edition of AQR’s Alaska Native Writers, Storytellers, & Orators. Holthaus subsequently published poetry and nonfiction in AQR. Two Holthaus essays that first appeared in AQR were recognized as “Notable American Essays” in The Best American series.

Holthaus’s book length poem, Circling Back, is a poetic narrative history of the American West. Thomas J. Lyon, editor of Journal of the American West wrote, “Circling Back has the thing most conventional histories of the West do not: the heart of what went on. There is a real vision here. This book suggests the humanity underneath conflict and evokes the patient earth underneath all.” Poet and essayist Gary Snyder said, “If I had to recommend one book on the West, this would be it.”

Outside Alaska, Gary taught at the University of Colorado and was the Center of the American West’s first Director. He was also the first Director at the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Minnesota. From this experience, he authored, From the Farm to the Table: What All Americans Need to Know about Agriculture. In this work, Gary examined the stark downside of international free-trade agreements that maximize multinational corporate profits at the expense of American farmers, wage-earners and the environment. More recently, Gary authored the book Learning Native Wisdom: What Traditional Cultures Teach Us about Subsistence, Sustainability, and Spirituality. Environmentalist and author Gary Nabhan called it, “perhaps the most profound and right-on, dead-center narrative I have read in a decade.”

Gary Holthaus has been the minister at Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship since November 2012.


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