Deb Vanasse Interviews Claire Rudolph Murphy

Though you moved to
Spokane over ten years ago, you’re still loved and missed in the Alaskan
writing community.  What do you feel best
about having accomplished while you were here?
I don’t think accomplished is the word, rather launched.
Alaska is where I began my writing career. My first ten books take place in
Alaska and I still have stories from up North that I want to tell. There is
such a sense of community in Alaska and I made so many dear friends, many of
whom I have stayed in touch with. I believe what I feel best about is the
research Jane Haigh and I did on the kids, women and even the dog stories of
the northern gold rushes. Before that all the history of the gold rush had been
told through the eyes of the men. I think that’s why Gold Rush Women has continued to be my best-selling book because
there is so much interest in women’s history.
It’s tough to do a
summary like this, but let’s give it a try: 
In what significant ways do you feel you’ve changed as a writer since
you left Alaska?
I believe that when I lived in Alaska, I always had this
feeling that I had to prove myself: to defend that writing from and about
Alaska was legitimate and recognized. Now I realize living and writing in
Alaska is what gave me my start. That without my life experiences in Alaska, I
could still be a writer writing away in Spokane or California and not be
published. If anything defines the body of my work, it is that I have written
about the cultures and history of the Northland. Those books informed my later
ones I Am Sacajawea, I Am York and Children of Alcatraz. It was in Alaska
that I was first drawn to the stories of outsiders in history. I’ve changed as
a writer only in that I realize even more now the dedication needed to keep at
it, day after day, year after year. And for me, wherever I live, it is so
important to be connected to a community of writers. It’s a lonely go some days
and the support of other writers gets us through the tough times and the
importance of celebrating each other’s successes.
Tell us about your
recent writing projects.
A few years ago I got passionate about the fight
for women’s suffrage after attending a women’s history conference with Jane
Haigh and learning that women first won the vote in the Western states. I
started researching suffrage history and haven’t stopped since. Last fall my
book Marching With Aunt Susan: Susan B.
Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage
was published about a real
10-year-old California girl who worked with Susan B. Anthony on the 1896
suffrage campaign. It’s doing well. As I said before, women and girls are
hungry for the stories. I am finally completing my first historical fiction
novel set in the final suffrage campaign in 1920. Henry Holt recently accepted
a project of mine My Country Tis of Thee:
Song of Patriotism, Song of Protest
, to be illustrated by Caldecott honor
illustrator Bryan Collier and I am working on my first science book on the
environment. Life is good when I stay focused on the work and not the outcome.
My 1994 photo essay book with Charles Mason, A Child’s Alaska was just released in paperback. It’s had a
wonderful run.
Tell us about your
role on the faculty of the Hamline University Low-Residency MFA Program:  What prompted you to take up that role, and
how has it enhanced what you do as a writer?
I have always loved to teach. It’s what I did before I began
writing, so it’s a natural fit for me to work with dedicated students wanting
to master the craft of writing for kids and young adults. The camaraderie with
fellow faculty members is tremendous and it is an honor to be a part of it. The
students and grads have formed a writing community that will last a lifetime
and cut their learning curve about how to write and publish books for young
readers. The four-semester program involves twice yearly 10-day residencies
that involve manuscript workshops, lectures, readings, and presentations by
visiting writers, editors and agents. After the residency, every student is
assigned a faculty advisor to work with. I have seen tremendous growth in the
students in our program and many grads are now experiencing success in the
publishing world. For more information, check out I would
be happy to talk to anyone out there with questions –
Alaskan Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock will be graduating from our program this July.
Anything else you’d
like to say to your writing friends, old and new, back here in Alaska?
That it is easy to sound positive and upbeat in an
interview. It is a bigger challenge to stay confident every day and believe in
one’s work. So hang in there. I recently got through a long, dry spell with no
new books on the horizon and it forced me to commit anew to my work, my voice.
I want to thank all the Alaskan writers who have supported me over the years
and now support other writers in their lives. We are a crazed lot at times, but
we search to portray truth on paper and I am honored to be on the journey. 49
Writers is a tremendous asset to keeping writers connected and valued. I
applaud my dear writing friend Deb Vanasse and all those who keep it thriving.
I am very excited to be returning to Fairbanks this June 4-8th
to co-teach a three credit course, co-sponsored by the Alaska State Writing
Consortium and the University of Alaska Fairbanks entitled “Teacher as Writer:
Use Your Words” (Ed 595.) Poet and nonfiction writer Carolyn Kremers and I
developed this course many years ago and are delighted to be teaching it again.
There are still some openings. For more information contact me. To register,
contact Annie Brenner Armstrong 907 474 6670
or During that
week, Carolyn and I will be holding a book event at Gulliver’s Books in
Fairbanks, Wednesday June 6th from 6-8 pm with a short reading at 7
p.m. Come on down.
Claire Rudolph Murphy is the author of fifteen award-winning books for children and young adults, including Gold Rush Dogs, Children of the Gold Rush, and Children of Alcatraz. Her latest is Marching with Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage. She and her husband Bob and two children Conor and Megan lived in Alaska for twenty-four years before returning to Claire’s hometown of Spokane where she continues to write and work with young writers.

1 thought on “Deb Vanasse Interviews Claire Rudolph Murphy”

  1. Lynn Lovegreen

    Hi Claire,

    I am writing an historical fiction series set in the Gold Rush, and I often go to Women of the Gold Rush for inspiration. Thanks for your work, and your current works sounds great too! Good luck with your future endeavors!

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