49 Writers: Guest Blogger Lucian Childs | Literary Chardonnay: Exploring Alaska’s Urban Wilds

When people Outside think
of Alaska, they imagine snow, rugged mountains, sled dog races, grizzlies,
homestead cabins and “The Deadliest Catch.” That people would be living up here
in an urban context would probably not occur to them.

Lucian Childs
But over half of us Alaskans
live in cities. What makes our experience unique is the dichotomy we often feel
between our ordinary travails—taking kids to school, dashing into Carrs for
groceries, or meeting friends at the PAC for a musical—and what we think of as the
Great Land, that vastness teeming with wildlife. Our lives are as helter-skelter
as city folks anywhere, but we live surrounded by wilderness, which exerts a
mighty influence on our lives. 

This hit me last
spring when I flew into Anchorage for my semi-annual sojourn. After I picked up
my car, I drove to my friend’s house on Government Hill where I was to stay. It
was early evening, one of those days we get in the spring: cloudless and
crystalline. Near my friend’s house, I pulled off at the park that overlooks
the Tank Farm. All the expectations about my upcoming stay—the dinner parties
and meet-ups with friends—all that dropped away. Beyond the oil tanks and our
small port, Mt. Susitna reclined and the Alaska Range disappeared down Cook
Inlet, white peaks silhouetted against the approaching sunset. I’ve lived in
Anchorage almost twenty-five years, but I’d forgotten the formidable beauty in
which it is located. Looking down Cook Inlet took my breath away.

In an hour, though, I
was showered and shaved, catching up with my friend Julie over a good
Chardonnay in the bar at Kinley’s. To me, this combination of activities is as deeply
Alaskan as setting a trapline or dipnetting for reds—being awed by the beauty of the Inlet, then
having that glass of Chard at a fine restaurant with a friend.

To be honest, I haven’t
always felt that other Alaska writers share this sentiment. As compelling as
their work is, so often it concerns the natural world and our place in it. So,
when Martha Amore and I started reading submissions for the anthology we were
editing, Building Fires in the Snow: A
Collection of Alaska LGBTQ Short Fiction and Poetry
, I expected works relating
climbing accidents, backcountry bear encounters or childhoods in remote
homestead cabins. Let me say, there is nothing wrong with those stories. I love
those stories. I’ve even been part of some of them. But where are our Alaska stories
with that glass of literary Chardonnay?

To my great delight, we
found them in the submissions we read: stories of a couple interviewing for a rental
house and unexpectedly finding a new friend, roommates dealing with a hornet’s
nest, a lovelorn young man pouring his heart out to a stranger over drinks at
Mad Myrna’s. There were urban bonfire parties, journalists, geologists, fiddle
players, bloggers and roller derby enthusiasts. There was the loving mom
thinking back on her wild and crazy single life; the long-time married couple,
recent transplants to Anchorage, unhappy with the choices they’d made.

Martha and I worked
hard to identify writers whose work was set in rural and bush communities, but
as so many of us live in Anchorage, many of the stories and poems we read were
set there as well. Yet always there was wilderness lurking at the edges,
glimpsed in the rearview window, appreciated on an afternoon hike. But more
than that, the characters in these stories and poems looked to nature for
models of how to live. A lover ponders a difficult relationship by walking the
Chugach Mountains alone. Taking a wild and wooly road trip through Pipeline-era
Alaska, a young girl finds herself. A man on the cusp of old age accepts his
new situation, seeing the way trees cling to life at the edge of a bog. In those
stories and poems, the two halves of the dichotomy were wed—the urban and the

Certainly, there was
work we read that took place in non-urban locales and where wildness exerted
its instructing influence, such as Jerah Chadwick’s stunning poems set in the
Aleutians. Here, men grappled with themselves and a life with a lover while
hauling in provisions or stoking a potbellied stove.

After all the
submissions had been read, we selected works for the anthology from twenty-six
contributors, including Martha and myself. These writers, some established
pros, others emerging artists, weave the rich tapestry of Alaska life, for the
first time using stories and poems from our LGTBQ community.

As I prepare to return
to Anchorage for the launch of Building
Fires in the Snow
, I’m excited to soon be a part of this unique place again.
I look forward to dinner at a friend’s overlooking the Inlet, Redoubt letting
off steam in the distance. To celebrating the end of a long day’s hike by
having an honest Alaska brew at a downtown eatery. To First Friday-ing in the
sharp autumn air. To being an explorer again in Alaska’s urban wilds.

There will be launch
events for Building Fires in the Snow
all over the state this fall. You can check out what’s happening at our website and keep up to
date on our Facebook page. Martha and I hope to see you at an event
and to learn how wilderness and the city come together in your life.

Lucian Childs divides
his time between Anchorage, Alaska and Toronto, Ontario where he lives with his
husband. In 2013, he received a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Project
Grant as well as the
Prism Review
Short Story Prize. He has been awarded residencies at Brydcliffe Art Colony and
at Artscape Gibraltar Point and was a Peter Taylor Fellow at the 2015
Review Writers Workshop. He is a
of Building Fires in the Snow: A Collection of
Alaska LGBTQ Short Fiction and Poetry
. His short stories have appeared in Grain, Sanskrit, The Puritan, Jelly Bucket, Quiddity, and Cirque, among others.

A 49 Writers
Crosscurrents event featuring panelists Lucian Childs and Martha Amore with
moderator Heather Brook Adams will begin at 7 pm, October 13th, in the
Anchorage Museum auditorium. This event, called “Tales of the City: Writing
from Alaska’s Urban Hubs”, will be preceded by an informal
Building Fires
in the Snow meet and greet at MUSE
Restaurant between 5 and 6:45 pm. 

1 thought on “49 Writers: Guest Blogger Lucian Childs | Literary Chardonnay: Exploring Alaska’s Urban Wilds”

  1. Great post, Lucian. As I read your post, I thought of Cinthia Ritchie's Dolls Behaving Badly. She describes urban Alaska very well, too.

    Looking forward to your book events, including the Crosscurrents one!

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