Deb: Have you spotted these writers?

While assembling an interview with Alaska State Writer Laureate Nancy Lord, author of our next 49 Writers online book club selection Rock, Water, Wild, I got to wondering:  What has become of some of our former writer laureates?

According to the Alaska State Council on the Arts website, the Alaska State Writer Laureate is an honorary appointment with a two-year term commitment, though it appears that in years past either the terms varied in length, or there were terms left unfilled.  Based on nominations (not yet open for this year’s October 1 appointment), the Council facilitates the selection of the writer laureate based on exemplary professionalism, literary excellence and a commitment to the advancement of literary arts in Alaska.

Looking over the list of former laureates, I know what John Straley, John Haines, Richard Nelson, Tom Sexton, and Sheila Nickerson have been up to.  On the others, I’m fuzzy.  Help me out.  If you’re a former Alaska State Writer Laureate or you’ve had a recent sighting of one, leave a comment to fill me in.  The complete list:

Alaska State Writer Laureates

2008 – Nancy Lord
2006 – John Straley
2004 – Jerah Chadwick
2002 – Anne Hanley
2000 – Richard Nelson
1995 – Tom Sexton
1988 – Joanne Townsend
1981 – Richard Dauenhauer
1977 – Sheila Nickerson
1973 – Ruben Gaines
1969 – John Haines
1965 – Oliver Everette
1963 – Margaret Mielke

8 thoughts on “Deb: Have you spotted these writers?”

  1. I know all of these folks except 3 early ones–Mielke, Everette, and Ruben Gaines. I was most curious about Joanne Townsend, who served a long term–terms used to be less well defined and positions held until those in charge got around to selecting someone new–and did a lot to promote poetry in the state. She lived in Anchorage. I knew she'd moved away some years ago, and I see (from googling) that she now lives in New Mexico.

    Bio here (from 2007):
    Joanne Townsend has been writing and publishing poetry for more than 30 years. A newcomer to Las Cruces at the end of 2005, her roots are in Alaska where she was appointed Alaska State Poet Laureate (1988-1994). She's published a literary magazine, taught at the University of Alaska Anchorage, been a poet in the schools, and founded and directed a community writing program for Anchorage seniors. Here, she writes, publishes, edits, gardens, and studies the zen of evaporative coolers. She's also a Lunarosity poetry editor. (I also note that her collected papers are at the consortium library in Anchorage.)

    I'm sorry to say that Jerah Chadwick, from Unalaska, also moved out of state a couple of years ago, to MN I believe. He is a fabulous poet informed by the Aleutians and Aleut culture, and his move leaves a hole in our writerly community.

    Last year the UAA bookstore–Rachael Epstein–put together a nice laureate program. 3 former laureates (Haines, Dauenhauer, and Hanley) and I served on a panel and answered questions posed by Kathy Tarr, coordinator of UAA's graduate writing program, and shared some of our new work. There was a good turn-out, and I was especially impressed with the number of young people there who were very familiar with Haines's poetry and had come especially to hear and honor him.

  2. Of course! The readings last year at the UAA bookstore. BTW, a reader notes that Richard Dauenhauer is a professor at University of Alaska Southeast. Everett, Gaines, Mielke?

  3. Those three are all deceased: Margaret Mielke in 1980, Oliver Everette in 1971, and Ruben Gaines in 1994. There is a poetry award in the Anchorage school district named for Mielke. Everette was an English prof at UAF and a Lutheran minister. Gaines was a radio personality and the creator of the character Chilkoot Charlie.

  4. As Nancy said, the event at UAA's Bookstore last year featuring the panel of Writer/Poet Laureates was a well-attended program. Richard Dauenhauer is still busy translating and writing books, along with his wife, Nora. They recently published, Anooshi Lingit Aani Ka: Russians in Tlingit America, the Battles of Sitka 1802 and 1804. John Haines has been teaching at UAF and he'll soon publish a new prose collection. Anne Hanley is a playwright, screenwriter, editor, and poet and lives in Fairbanks.

  5. I used to work on projects with Sheila Nickerson and ran into her at Sea-Tac airport a few years ago. I think she lives in Bellingham, Washington now. The Seattle Times noted this in 2002: "Midnight to the North: The Untold Story of the Inuit Woman Who Saved the Polaris Expedition" by Sheila Nickerson (Putnam). A Bellingham author re-creates the story of an Inuit translator who saved the American crew of an 1871 expedition to reach the North Pole."
    I first got to know Sheila and Tom Sexton in the early 1990's, when I would bring them to Ketchikan as part of the Alaska Humanities Forum old Speaker's Bureau. That program taught me everything I know about author appearances at libraries and I dearly wish it or the like was still available. The funding for airfare was invaluable as well as the list of statewide talent.

  6. Margaret Mielke was my grandmother! While she did pass away quite a while ago, we all still love her poetry. It brought a smile to my face to find this thread by happenstance this rainy morning!

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