49 Writers Interview: North Words Writers Symposium

The first North Words Writers Symposium will be held June 3-6 in Skagway.  Click the link in the first question below for details.

How did the North Words Writers Symposium come to be?
Dan: During Buckwheat’s human-powered trek from Miami to Nome three years ago we had the opportunity to talk at length about a writer’s symposium. We rendezvoused in central Minnesota in March, and on the northward walk to Winnipeg chatted constantly about a writer’s symposium. As the miles passed under our feet, we talked about reasons to host a symposium, who might come, what they wanted, how we could meet their desires, and why Skagway had the potential to be a great gathering place for aspiring writers and aspiring writers. Buckwheat never let go of the idea, and set about politicking with Skagway, Yukon, and Alaska leaders to walk our talk.

Buckwheat: I like reading about my part of the world and I want to encourage everybody to write more about Yukon and Alaska.

Why a symposium rather than a conference?

Dan: Nine years as a staff member for the Sitka Symposium convinced me that people who attend these sorts of gatherings want at least as much to contribute as listen. People ought to have time to talk with each other. Great conversation is a scarce commodity in our a treadmill world of digital messaging, and anything we can do to stimulate discussion will contribute to event’s value. Our panel discussions are led by published authors talking about writing, but symposium participants are encouraged to build scaffolds to support further lines of thought. The trick in a two-hour discussion is to keep the scaffold from collapsing.

Buckwheat: We are encouraging discussion rather than lectures.

Tell us about this year’s theme, Frontiers of Language.

Dan: We hope this works for people interested in open space, wild things, survival, independence, surprises, experimentation, determination, celebration, and living on the edge.

Buckwheat: Skagway has preserved a glimpse into a bygone frontier, and we want to see more of that in the printed page. Just because it happened a hundred years ago doesn’t mean things have changed.

You’ve pulled together a great faculty. What sort of mix were you seeking?

Dan: The North Words faculty is comprised of Alaskans who write exceptionally well about people striving to live out a piece of the Northern myth. Our keynote speaker, Dana Stabenow, constructed a dazzling career on that premise. Where better to converge with mythmakers than in Skagway, Gateway to the Klondike?

Buckwheat: We want to bring together great Alaska writers and publishers to explore with participants the craft and ideas behind the printed word. We’re excited to host approaches even beyond the page to film and TV.

Describe the participants you expect and what they can expect to gain from attending.

Dan: Folks who are interested in attending North Words should come expecting the following:
-Solid strategy focused on the craft of successful writing;
-True accounts from survivors of the publishing world;
-Opportunities to chat with like-minded believers in the Word and the Edge;
-Frontier adventures (train ride to White Pass, hike at lake Bennett, Dyea raft trip, etc.)
-Networking with human beings (as opposed to the blinking screen)

Buckwheat: I think about the people who have already registered, like Sarah McGinnis in North Carolina who thinks that Alaska is filled with special characters, and wants insight on writing about them. It’s more than just writing. It’s an exploration of place and mind. We’re dancing on the edge of wilderness every day. Wild people, too. What with the whorehouse tours, taco feeds, hikes, bikes, and the raft trip down the Taiya River—it’s an unbelievable deal.

In what ways does the Symposium distinguish itself from the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference and the Alaska Book Festival?

Dan: The North Words crew honors all those brave organizers who came before us. We are impressed by the energy committed to developing enduring writing communities in Alaska and northern Canada, and are eager to contribute to a sustainable frontier literature. After many sessions with the Sitka Symposium, which concluded a 25-year run in 2009, I was inspired to continue fostering relationships, conversation, and the powerful ideas that come from the convergence of remarkable people. Buckwheat loved the idea of gathering word wizards in Skagway, and taking them to new intellectual and experiential heights. No town can throw a party like Skagway; we know that faculty and participants will discover new worlds at this transformative event.

Buckwheat: The difference comes down to our location. We are a jumping-off place. Our living history permeates the Symposium. It’s even beyond the physical grandeur—literature translates a place like this through the human experience.

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