Ernestine Hayes: Closing Out the Month

It’s come to the end of the month. Thanks to 49 Writers for inviting me to participate in these weekly posts. With workshops, writers’ blogs, CrossCurrents, Poems in Place, and their many other services for writers in Alaska and beyond, 49 Writers is indeed an Alaska presence.

I was fortunate enough to spend two months this past summer at Djerassi Artists Residence as part of Rasmuson Foundation’s generous Artists in Residence program. I walked a path from one of the four Middlebrook Studios to the main house each day, never disappointed by the chef’s fresh California-style dinner and the company of artists from around the world. I encourage everyone to explore this opportunity that Rasmuson Foundation so generously makes available to Alaskan artists and writers.

During my first month at Djerassi, I finished the “final” draft of my next book and sent it off to a wonderful editor at University of Washington Press, whose careful and thoughtful response led to my second month’s work at Djerassi. I finished the “final final” draft of that next book, packed it away, and came back home to Alaska.

This past summer’s good fortune included an Alaska Literary Award, made possible by the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation and sponsored by talented and generous Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli. That grand award allowed me to travel round trip to ports of call on the Alaska State Ferry, where I remembered how at home I am in this place and why I so love the waters of the Inside Passage. On those travels, I finished the “final final final” draft of my next book and sent the manuscript off once again.

Even though I’m normally a stay-at-home, my summer’s travel weren’t yet finished: I traveled to Santa Fe to take part in the MFA program at Institute for American Indian Arts, where I basked in the creative glow of such luminaries as Joan Kane, Simon Ortiz, Linda Hogan, Chip Livingston, Elisha Washuta, and other literary notables. What a comfortable, inspiring, supportive, inclusive program Jon Davis has created.

After some days in Anchorage at the Alaska Humanities Forum, who also so importantly support Alaska programs, I made it home to Juneau, having traveled more in three months than I had since my journey home thirty years before.

So many more individuals and institutions support Alaska artists and Alaska writers: poet Jonas Lamb at the University of Alaska Southeast, poet Ishmael Hope with the Sharing Our Knowledge Clan Conference, poet Emily Wall of Tidal Echoes, Writer Laureate Frank Soos, Nancy Lord, Erin Hollowell, Jeremy Pataky, and so many other individuals and organizations. Gunalcheesh to all!

In my summer’s travels, I had many occasions to think about the changes that have come since my return home so many years ago, and the changes that are still to come: changes that must come if we are to hear everyone’s voice and listen to everyone’s story.

I cannot let the opportunity pass to remind us all that the work of decolonization requires energetic action and vigorous declaration. It’s not enough to quietly agree. The inequities that must be confronted are everywhere, and the need is urgent. I call on artists and writers and readers and editors and program administrators and every single person in Alaska to add your voice to the voices of those who are defying the system of imbalance that surrounds us. Promise yourself that you will not be content to whisper support but rather that you will speak out on behalf of all voices, as do those entities and individuals named above, as do so many other unnamed readers, writers, teachers, and students, all of us who shape this Alaskan life and define Alaskan literature. All of us who live in and love this place.

With a last thank you to 49 Writers for this opportunity, I send a hopeful see-you-soon to friends and readers. Gunalcheesh!

Ernestine Hayes is the author of Blonde Indian, an Alaska Native Memoir. Her work has appeared in Studies in American Indian Literature, Tipton Poetry Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Tidal Echoes and other publications. She makes her home in Juneau, Alaska, where she was born.

2 thoughts on “Ernestine Hayes: Closing Out the Month”

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful posts this month, Ernestine, and for ending with such an essential call to arms. I can't wait to see what comes next for you!

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