Linda: The Story Behind Storyknife Retreat in Homer

Earlier this month, prolific author of the Kate Shugak series of mystery novels and Homer resident Dana Stabenow announced the launch of her campaign to raise $1 million to build Alaska’s only retreat for female writers, Storyknife Writers Retreat.  Storyknife will be only the second residency of its kind in the world.

I met with Dana recently over a cup of coffee and heard her describe with fervor her vision for this special residency. There is no doubt that Hedgebrook Farm has played an integral role in establishing the careers of female writers – although not an alumna herself, author Leigh Newman referred to it with reverence in her talk last week – and a retreat of this kind in Alaska can only elevate the experience to something rare.

One recurring question has been, “Why only for women?” To which Dana has responded, “For many reasons, but here are a few: Because this will be the retreat that Kate Shugak built, and Kate is a woman. Because it is modeled on Hedgebrook Farm, the only writers retreat for women in the world. Storyknife will be only the second. And because there is still need (and you can Google more). It’s not about discrimination. it’s about helping to achieve parity.” If we believe in the dream and want to see it realized, the first step is to contribute our support.

Here is more information from the Storyknife Writers Retreat website:
To kick off the campaign Stabenow is launching a crowd-sourced funding round on Storyknife’s website,, and on her fan sites. The organization is accepting donations of all denominations but a list of specific funding levels and benefits is also available on the site.
The $1 million fundraising campaign is the first phase in a much larger effort to raise a total of $21 million to cover the costs of developing the property and ensuring its continuing legacy through a $20 million endowment.
The Inspiration
The first thing that Stabenow’s writing ever earned her was not the sale of an article or a book.  It was a residency at the Hedgebrook Farm retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island, Washington in Puget Sound. The author calls her time at Hedgebrook the seminal moment of her writing career. “It was the first time anyone ever acted like writing was a real job,” she says. Stabenow’s vision for Storyknife is to pass that gift on to a new generation of female writers.
“So far as we can discover,” Stabenow says, “Hedgebrook Farm is the only writers retreat for women in existence.” Storyknife will double the amount of residences available for women writers worldwide, and give women writers a unique space and time to hone their craft.
The Retreat takes its name from the English translation for the Yupik word yaaruin or “storyknife.”  Traditionally, Yupik girls would use yaaruin made from wood, bone, antler or ivory, to carve stories in snow and in riverbanks to amuse and instruct their younger siblings.
Dana says, “I came across mention of storyknives in one of the early explorer diaries and I couldn’t rest until I knew more.  As a traditional Alaska Native vehicle for storytelling, it is the perfect metaphor for what we hope to accomplish at Storyknife. I’m hoping we get a lot of Alaska Native women writers applying for residencies at Storyknife, too.”
The Residency
Writers will be admitted to the residency after a rigorous application process, including statements of need and samples of work.  Upon successful admission, writers will come to Storyknife for two-to-eight-week residencies to focus on their diverse projects in uninterrupted peace, an atmosphere made possible by the Storyknife endowment.  “Following in the tradition set by Hedgebrook,” Dana says, “Storyknife residents will not be allowed to wash so much as a teacup. Their job here will be to write.”
With the exception of travel to and from Anchorage, all expenses for writers in residence will be covered, including a specially curated Alaskan adventure of each writer’s choosing.  Examples of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences include halibut fishing, ocean kayaking, bear viewing, and flight-seeing.
The Retreat
Located just outside Homer, the Storyknife Writers Retreat will boast six private cabins and a main house dotted around a six-acre property commanding 180-degree views of lower Cook Inlet. Sustainability and supporting local economies will be an ongoing focus for the Retreat.  Meals will feature produce from the property’s own garden, with locally supplied moose and salmon as other culinary mainstays.
Born in Anchorage, Alaska on March 27, 1952, Dana Stabenow is one of Alaska’s most prolific living authors.  Stabenow has written 29 novels, numerous short stories, several anthologies, and contributed the Alaska Traveler column to Alaska magazine for five years. Throughout her career she has amassed critical, public and civic acclaim, most notably the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original for A Cold Day for Murder in 1993 and being named Alaska’s Artist of the Year in the 2007 Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities. She won a 2012 Nero Award for literary excellence in the mystery genre for Though Not Dead.
Storyknife Writers Retreat is a non-profit organization with the mandate to build and operate a retreat and residency program in Homer, Alaska for aspiring female writers.  Its 501(c)3 application is pending. Founded by author Dana Stabenow, Storyknife will double the residencies available exclusively to women in the literary arts, from six cabins (Hedgebrook Writers Retreat) to twelve (Storyknife). The organization is managed by a board of directors and is funded through the support of donors. To make donations or learn more, visit

1 thought on “Linda: The Story Behind Storyknife Retreat in Homer”

  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Lost my last comment, but trying again: I am so excited by this effort and truly believe Alaska is the place to make it happen. Cheers to Linda for the great post and to Dana for working so hard toward such an achievable and meaningful dream. I look forward to finding out more as the funding drive proceeds.

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