Deb: 49 Writers Interview with Trish Jenkins, Alaska Center for the Book

The Alaska Center for the Book has been promoting literacy in Alaska for nearly 20 years. What has the organization learned over the years about which projects work and which don’t? Specifically, I’m thinking of projects like the Writing Rendezvous that have gone by the wayside.

Alaska Center for the Book, affiliated with the Library of Congress, began as an ad hoc group in the early 1990s.We surveyed interested individuals and organizations in 1993-1994 to see what programs and issues were of most interest to them. We took that information and used it during a planning retreat to build a program. The three key functions that I can recall from that time were: 1) promote literacy; 2) serve as a clearinghouse for organizations working on literacy and literature in Alaska; 3) promote Alaskan authors and support the effort to build professionalism among the authors. The programs that grew out of those “missions” were Writing Rendezvous, our newsletter, and eventually Reading Rendezvous. At the time, the Midnight Sun Writers Conference in Fairbanks had been abandoned and we felt we could help fill the need for networking among writers and building craft with the Writing Rendezvous.

So for many years, ACB presented Writing Rendezvous, presenting workshops, panel discussions and presentations by writers, publishers and editors to attendees from all over Alaska. It was a very popular event and filled an obvious need for the writing community in Alaska, All of the work coordinating. planning and putting on the event was done by volunteers, particularly our very hard working board. When Kachemak Bay began offering a similar program for writers, with a much bigger budget and paid staff, we decided that our efforts could be better spent in other areas. We also felt it was important to put our efforts into promoting reading and put our volunteer energies toward Reading Rendezvous. If writers are going to be successful, they need readers!

We have been putting on the annual Reading Rendezvous, in partnership with Loussac Library for several years now and we are very proud of its presence in the community. It is a free reading fair for children held at the library in May or early June, which is held in conjunction with the kick-off of the Summer Reading Program sponsored by Loussac Library. Last year we had 1500 attendees, with lots of activities, entertainment and prizes. We have been happy to have many corporate sponsors for this fun event.

So we’ve shifted from doing two big things to doing one big thing (Reading Rendezvous) and several smaller things. Here is an overview of some of those smaller things: Each year we do a special event for Native American Heritage month in November through a partnership with the UAA Bookstore. We have been a partner with UAA in developing and promoting their wonderful website LitSite Alaska. It is an invaluable resource for teachers, students, writers, readers and parents. This year, we partnered with the Anchorage Daily News and UAA to continue the long running and very popular Creative Writing Contest. In past years, we’ve been involved with Alaska Women Writers. Last year we did a series of five events around the theme Booklovers’ Gone Wild. More recently, we hosted Monster Jeopardy, part of Anchorage Public Library’s 4th Annual Anchorage Reads. In the process of doing smaller things, sometimes we have successfully partnered with other organizations.

Given our affiliation with the Library of Congress, we sponsor their Letters about Literature program for elementary, middle school and high school students around the state, and we send two representatives to the National Book Fest in Washington D.C. every fall. In addition to events mentioned above, we promote literacy through the annual CLIA awards (Contributions to Literacy in Alaska) to deserving organizations and individuals throughout Alaska.

We produced a wonderful literary poster several years ago, which began as an effort to produce a Literary Map of Alaska. We were offered free glossy paper and printing by Alaska Northwest Publishing, so we amended our project to accommodate the opportunity and produced a beautiful poster featuring Alaskan authors instead. We are still interested in producing a Literary Map and look forward to doing that sometime in the near future.

In sum, the projects that work are those that happen. All events and projects are the result of our all-volunteer board members’ efforts. Some involve working with other organizations, and some have affiliation with the Library of Congress, but they happen because of the dedication and wisdom of our board. We know how to make things happen! That’s a simplistic answer, but it’s true.

How does the Alaska Center for the Book approach partnerships with other organizations? Do you typically seek them out, or is it best for other groups to approach you with potential projects and ideas?

We have participated in many partnerships, both at our initiative and in response to a request from groups or individuals asking for our help. For example, we partner with Rachel Epstein at UAA Bookstore every November for an event to celebrate Native Heritage Month. In the past we have co-sponsored the Alaska Women Writers event produced by YWCA; we partnered with the Alaska State Council on the Arts with four events to support the traveling poetry broadside exhibit, How the Ink Feels, in 2006; and we have partnered a couple times with the Anchorage School District to put on a Young Writer’s Retreat for high school students. In addition, we have been a fiscal partner with many local groups for readings, workshops and other literary based projects. I think people know we’re here, and that we have the reputation of being willing and able to help. We welcome other groups to approach us with projects!

Are there projects the Alaska Center for the Book might take on if the group had more funding and/or human resources? Which do you find harder to come by – money or people-power?

There are probably projects out there that we might take on if we had more human resources and more funding, but we don’t tend to dwell on that; we are resourceful and responsive. We have been very successful in obtaining funding for whatever projects we take on. Furthermore, our focus is mostly on impact, low budget projects, especially to underserved communities, than it is on high profile, expensive ventures.

That being said, we co-sponsored the project to re-supply the Hooper Bay School library when their school burned down. The outpouring of books, volunteers, and funds to buy replacement books from the communities across Alaska was truly heartwarming. On the other hand, when we were approached about being involved in the Anchorage Daily News’ creative writing contest, we realized that to be done well, it needed someone who had a lot of time on his or her hands in addition to what our board could offer, so we took advantage of an internship class at UAA because we simply couldn’t have done it otherwise.

One of the joys of being involved with the Alaska Center for the Book is working with the wonderful individuals who are committed to promoting literacy and literature in Alaska. The board of ACB is a dedicated, hard working group, whose accomplishments are amazing. We are only constrained by the limitations of the time and energy of this core group to expend the efforts necessary to produce an event. We are always looking to recruit like minded folks and have been fortunate to have capable, motivated folks join us in various ventures. New blood is always welcome!

The list of past CLIA awards reads like a who’s who of Alaskan literacy. When do nominations open each year? How many receive the awards, and how are they chosen?

The Alaska Center for the Book has been proud to present annual CLIA awards to deserving Alaskans. Nominations usually open in the fall. We usually give three or four awards per year. A committee is formed to review the nominations and the recipients chosen. I have to say, it is difficult to choose among the many deserving nominations. We have a lot of wonderful people in Alaska who are doing so much to promote literacy and literature throughout the State. It has been our privilege to honor some of these outstanding individuals and organizations.

What obligations and benefits await potential members of the Alaska Center for the Book?

We—the Board—are a positive, caring, dedicated, hard-working, creative, and, most importantly, fun group of people. We have fun while planning and doing worthwhile and interesting things. The reward is being part of this amazing group that puts our commitment and the success of our programs ahead of any material benefits. Anyone with an interest and commitment to improving and promoting literacy and literature in Alaska is welcome as members and/or volunteers for general or specific projects. It’s very rewarding to see what we add to the community; that is, it is rewarding to attend our events and watch others enjoy them.

Once a year we do send someone to the National Book festival in Washington, DC, and we also send someone to the Idea Exchange meeting at the Library of Congress, a meeting with all the Centers for the Book.

As for obligations, we meet once a month for about an hour and a half. At that monthly meeting, we plan events, discuss ongoing plans for events, and recall events that have taken place. As members get involved in specific projects, more obligations come up, of course. Best of all, many of us attend the events we host or co-host.

A concept that surfaces from time to time among our readers are an annual award for Alaskan books. Would such an award be within the mission of the Alaska Center for the Book? What do you see as some of the benefits and pitfalls of your group – or another – sponsoring such an award?

Yes, it’s within our mission, and we’ve discussed it in the past. Several years ago, we looked at how some other states do it, because we were concerned that in such a small population, we could make ourselves pretty unpopular by choosing the “wrong” Alaskan author! Some states do a list of “noteworthy” books each year, rather than just one or two, which seems more sensible. Regardless, whatever we do—or some other organization—it would be a difficult task and would take a thoughtful approach to determining categories.

Books have indirectly been honored with CLIA’s in the past. In 1995, Nancy Warren Ferrell (Juneau), Alaskan author of Alaska: A Land in Motion and numerous other titles. Lela Kiana Oman (Nome), for her efforts to record from Inupiaq Eskimo and then translate to English The Epic of Qayaq. In 1997, Wayne Mergler for The Last New Land. In 1998, Claire Rudolf Murphy for several of her books. Dana Stabenow was also recognized.

4 thoughts on “Deb: 49 Writers Interview with Trish Jenkins, Alaska Center for the Book”

  1. Good interview! The AK Center seems to have more activities underway then I realized. Yet when I went online to look for them, it appears their domain had recently expired. (I recall an old, fairly outdated website, but now I can't find even that. Any help?)

    With all due respect for their volunteer-run efforts, it would be great to see the AK Ctr have a more public profile. (I think I missed some of the recent programs over the last few years; perhaps the lack of strong promotions is the reason why.) At a time when books and literacy face challenges, we could use a little more visible advocacy!

  2. In case others are having trouble finding the ACB website, I added a live link in the post – should have done that from the start.

  3. Hi, thanks, "Anonymous" for the nice comments and good suggestions for more visibility. I agree! As for our website, we are in the process of transferring web hosts, and so the site is offline at the moment. We are hoping that it is available tomorrow. Please visit us later.

    –Trish Jenkins, President, Alaska Center for the Book

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top