Don Rearden: The Alaska Literary Scene and You

Welcome to Don Rearden, our August featured author.

If you caught Talk of Alaska a few weeks ago you might have heard Jo-Ann Mapson and Sherry Simpson chatting with Alaska Public Media’s Steve Heimel on “Developing Alaska’s Writers.” I didn’t get a chance to call in to add my six cents (the inflated Alaskan rate for two cents, due to shipping and/or gross mark up by the sales team), so I thought I’d add that here — plus it allows me to circumvent the seven second radio delay to dump callers who might stray from the topic, as I am wont to do.

Sherry, Jo-Ann, and Steve did a superb job covering the topic, but what I wanted to add was a little something about your personal responsibility in this rapidly developing Alaskan literary scene — yes, you. Whether you are a voracious reader, aspiring writer, published author, or just the vague 2nd person, you have an obligation to this movement if it is going to succeed, if you want it to succeed.

Let me explain.

Alaska is hot right now. I’m not talking about the record-breaking temperatures melting glaciers and keeping us tanned and smiling, recharging our souls before the winter snow flies, I’m speaking of the popularity of the non-stop, and mostly incredibly ridiculous and not-so-real reality shows and endless stream of “Alaskan” movies. We’re bigger than that. We have more important issues to discuss, to share, and to resolve. This isn’t about capitalizing on the popularity for financial reasons, this is about using the world’s interest in our great state to further the possibility that those of us who want to read and write about Alaska can go on doing what we love. Write. The problem is that people are spending more and more time watching those ridiculous aforementioned shows and less time reading. Our best hope is to use the interest in Alaska to hook folks into the amazing literature coming from our writers. How do we do this?

Let me explain.

Any of us with a stake in the written word, in stories about Alaska or those just written here, have to do our part if we want our books and our authors to succeed. Doing our part doesn’t take much. If you started with the following suggestions we’ll all instantly be best-selling authors and lose twenty pounds a week without exercising [sorry, I included that to get more web hits for this blog post]:

1. Support Alaskan Authors. This is easy. When one of us comes out with a new book, buy the book and tell your friends and family about it. Perhaps even read the darn thing, and then tell friends and family all over the world via social media, email, snail mail, and telegraph how much you enjoyed the book. Go to launches, readings, signings, and craft talks. Attendance at these events shows non-readers and businesses that an audience exists for what we’re doing and that these gatherings are important to our Alaskan communities.

2. Support Alaskan readers. [I realize how revolutionary this is, but bear with me. I’m quasi-brilliant self-proclaimed tundra philosopher, and my ideas are often too profound for me to even understand. It is true, the 49 Writers have this as a part of our mission, a mission I helped craft as the founding board president, but that is besides the point because I’m about to expand and explode that idea in a manner that will make your brain hurt.] We, as writers, cannot exist without readers. Those are the beautiful people who purchase books or check them out at the library and actually read them. Support those people here in Alaska or those outside interested in reading about Alaska by reaching out to bloggers and book clubs around the world by offering reading suggestions, reviewing Alaskan books/authors, or even consider donating multiple copies of a novel to a local library.

3. Support the 49 Writers. [Ethical Disclaimer: As a board member and volunteer of the organization, author, reader, and father of a toddler named after a fictional character, I have more at stake than anyone in Alaska with respect to this particular suggestion.] While we’re relatively new, in terms of the tens of thousands of non-profit organizations that have been in Alaskan for tens of thousands of years, we are kicking all sorts of literary ass (Pardon me for being an ass and using such language after the word literary). We have built an incredible community of readers and writers, an inclusive atmosphere that supports both the craft of writing and reading. But that growth in popularity and reputation doesn’t just happen by itself overnight. It takes the hard work of a dedicated and amazing and severely underpaid Executive Director and an army of volunteers to maintain and sustain the organization. It takes overly generous board members and donors and grants from Alaskan foundations. It takes time. And more importantly, it takes you. Yes, you. Read the blog. Enjoy and share the blog. Keep up with your membership. Donate what you can in time, energy, or gold bullion. Attend events. Volunteer. Take or teach one of our workshops.

4. Write. Finally, your obligation to this movement is add to the conversation not by just chipping in with your Alaskan inflated eight cents (ever notice how the cost of everything rises before your very eyes?) but to actually add meaningful and exciting content. This means to write your stories. Quit talking about writing. Carve out some time, and get to work. There are Alaskan stories to be told. And the best ones will be told, not by outsiders, but by you.

Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of southwestern Alaska. He is board president of the 49 Writers, a produced screenwriter, and award-winning author. He teaches writing as an Associate Professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The Raven’s Gift is available from Penguin in trade paperback, Kindle, and iBook. More info at

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