Kirsten Dixon: The Call of Community

My husband Carl and I live much of the year at Winterlake
Lodge. For us to receive any paper mail, it first arrives at an Anchorage post
office box. From there, it is picked up weekly by an employee or family member,
taken to our small office, and sorted into an old duct-taped canvas mailbag.
The mail waits for one of the infrequent airplane charters from Anchorage. Just
like everyone else in rural Alaska, “mail day” is a highlight. We dump mounds
of bills, letters, and packages onto the kitchen table and sort through them to
read all more carefully later.
It was a mail day much like this that I received a small
postcard from Goddard College announcing their new west coast MFA program. I
don’t know how I got onto Goddard’s mailing list. I had never heard of the
school or the program. I wasn’t looking to go back to school. I already had a
bachelor’s degree and one master’s degree, and I certainly wasn’t seeking a
career change. Although I had written a couple of cookbooks and for some local
publications, I hadn’t quite considered myself a real writer worthy of
academics. Nonetheless, the postcard fired my imagination and sent me down a
path of application, essay writing, acceptance, and packing up to head to Port
Townsend for my first residency.
I took to student life. I joined in on the late-night
bonfires and discussion groups. I listened to wild music thrumming through thin
walls. I wrote fiction and non-fiction, snippets of poetry, travel and memoir.
I had stated in my entrance essay that I wanted to write a murder mystery. I
happily went back and forth for five semesters as I plugged away at a thesis,
completed a teaching practicum, and collected a bookshelf of craft books (if
you are interested in my annotated list of top ten favorites, send me an email
request). I finished a clunky hope-to-never-be-seen-again thesis and received a
diploma underneath a glorious spring Port Townsend sky. I never did write that
murder mystery.
So, what did I get out of my Port Townsend experience?
Attending an MFA program offered me a community of like-minded people. It
opened my mind to hundreds of new authors I would have never read. It gave me
the tools to use anytime, anywhere for the rest of my life. It gave me
permission to write, no matter how mediocre the results might ever be. I loved
every minute of it.
One day, during one of my frequent stays in Anchorage, I saw
a small two-line blurb in the newspaper announcing a writing class conducted by
Andromeda Romano-Lax and Deb Vanasse. I signed up. I sat in the front row. I
listened and learned. After the class, we chatted and talked about an idea – to
hold a small writing retreat at Tutka Bay Lodge. This chance conversation
forged an opportunity for learning, inspiration to write, and the idea to bring
a community of writers together. Hey, wait. The concept of 49 Writers sounded
pretty darn similar to all the things I liked about my MFA program.
Fast-forward a few years down the road. The doorbell rang at
our Anchorage house, and I answered it. Despite that it was already well into
the day, I was still in my bathrobe. I had bandages on my chest from a recent
mastectomy and a titanium port running into my superior vena cava to receive
weekly doses of chemo drugs. Standing at the door was Linda Ketchum, then
director of 49 Writers. She had a big stack of books as a gift for me. I
started crying, hand on my balding head; she started crying, and we hugged.
When I closed the door, I returned to the easy chair Carl had brought in so I
could keep my feet elevated. I held onto the books as I closed my eyes and fell
back asleep. 
During my illness (all over now and I am healthy, thank
you), writing saved me from deepening into the depression and worry that cancer
can bring. My daughter Mandy and I wrote a cookbook, a project that pulled me
back to the land of the living every time I drifted off toward cancer land. We
won a national award for our book, and we went on to celebrate a year of book
touring, cooking, and growing together.
A guest blog is a chance to hear from various voices in our
group. But, I hope to use my one precious guest month to hear more from you.
Please send along an email to me and tell me what current book are you reading. What books have been most important to you (warning – I ask this every writing
retreat at Tutka Bay)? Tell me how writing has saved you.  After all, we are a community of writers
hoping to share, inspire, and move each other forward.

Kirsten Dixon owns two remote wilderness lodges in Alaska.
She is the author of
The Winterlake Lodge Cookbook: Culinary Adventures in
the Wilderness and co-author of the Tutka Bay Lodge Cookbook: Coastal
Cuisine from the Wilds of Alaska. She co-owns the La Baleine Café with her
daughter Mandy. She likes to know what other people are reading and uses every
opportunity to find out. Her email is

3 thoughts on “Kirsten Dixon: The Call of Community”

  1. Thanks for this post, Kirsten! I'm so glad you're healthy, writing and cooking, nourishing us all. (I finish radiation tomorrow, so maybe I'll be lucky and heal as well as you did.) Respectfully, Peggy

  2. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    That was a wonderful post, Kirsten. You bring so much to our literary community and I can't wait to read your next posts. Echoing Peggy above (and wishing her good health as well!) I am glad to hear you've had a positive recovery.

  3. Loved this post. My experience with the writing community has also been full of love and support. In fact, that's what I get from you and what I offer you in return. I own the cookbook, and once I was your roommate! Linda

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