O'Donnell: Nine Postcards from the Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference

Welcome to Nicole Stellon O’Donnell, author of the recently published Steam Laundry, and our featured guest author for June.
1. Camille Dungy teaches a workshop on using accidents as
inspiration for poetry in a room that overlooks Kachemak Bay. She stops
mid-sentence, tells us an eagle just flew by. Later when an eagle calls just
outside the window, as if it had something to add to the class, we all stop and
listen. A Homer resident tells Camille that sound was the eagle. She looks out
the window again, marveling, “That was the eagle’s key.”
2. At the reading at Alice’s Champagne Palace, Ann Pancake
invites us to imagine the pack of albino cats at Ham’s house, cats so skittish
they melt away when you try to catch them. Ham’s name says everything you need
to know about him. Camille Dungy explains what the question is not and lets us know what we should be
asking instead. Elizabeth Dodd argues art with a gentleman who has already made
up his mind. Dan O’Neil begrudgingly defines “Go Devil” because his editor
forced him to. Daryl Farmer struggles up big hills and ponders which bathroom
to go into. Eva Saulitis confronts both extinction and cancer in an excerpt
from the preface of her forthcoming book. Peggy Shumaker hauls mangos uphill
and reflects on the reconstruction of memory.
3. I find myself at the Homer Independent Bookstore’s table
for the third time in two days. I have told myself I would be at the book table
only one time.
4. In the camper, my five-year-old insists, “Let’s play the
gambling!” TJ has been teaching the girls blackjack for Tic Tacs, the sweet
ovals a currency more valuable than cash. Unfortunately, the pack of cards
features kings and queens of England, making it hard for nascent gamblers who
imagine that every card is a face card. They want to swim in the majesty of the
old dresses, the medieval caps and tights. They want the story, not the
numbers, but the promise of candy keeps them pushing toward 21.
5. Writers get the editor and agent perspective from Jeffrey
Shotts, Jim Rutman, and James Engelhardt. By next year, some of the people in
the room will be newly published.
6. Barry Lopez addresses the author’s responsibility to be
of some help, to be of some use. He calls us to action, looking for the writing
that imagines what’s going to come next. Later he opens his question and answer
session with a question: did anyone else see the huge raft of otters off the
spit? He counted seventy-six. What brought them all together? We discuss what
brings us all together.
7. At the reading at Land’s End, Fairbanks visits in James Engelhardt’s
new poems, written since his arrival in Alaska a year ago. Don Rearden walks us
through the thoughts that run though the bicyclist’s head in the suspended
moments just before the crash. Valerie Miner offers the resentments and
realizations that persist after a marriage falls apart through the details of a
trip to the grocery. Amber Flora Thomas gets thrown from her horse again and
again and learns “What holds us doesn’t have to love us.” Nancy Lord enters a fictional
bar called “The Poop Deck,” and Homer recognizes itself. Debra Gwartney, in
writing about her own complicated father, reminds us of the truth that we all
get only the one father we get. Sherry Simpson slows down, spending a week
alone on Lincoln Island, imagines her own end and a way to be in the world.
8. I find myself at the book table for the fifth time.
9. Peggy Shumaker, state Writer Laureate, brings bubbles to
the bonfire for the kids. The Golden Retriever chases them around to eat them.
It’s late and writers stand around with beers, with wine, with words. Some
writers play banjo, ukulele, guitar, and fiddle. People peel off toward the
Land’s End with hugs and goodnights. Before she goes, Peggy says goodbye to the
girls. The seven-year-old, hours past her bedtime, amped and proud, insists
that she come to the “Presentation of Something Creepy.” She presents Peggy
with marshmallows that they have dipped in the sea, rolled in the sand, and
thrown into the fire. Peggy shares their wonder at the exploding goo balloons, their
invented recipe for campfire bubbles.
You wish you were here. Yes, of course you do. Next year you
will be here. 
Nicole Stellon O’Donnell lives, writes, and teaches in Fairbanks,
Alaska. Her novel-in-poems, Steam
was published in January 2012 by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red
Hen Press. Her work has
appeared in Prairie Schooner, Beloit Poetry Journal, Dogwood, The Women’s
Review of Books and other literary journals.

4 thoughts on “O'Donnell: Nine Postcards from the Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference”

  1. Lynn Lovegreen

    Thanks, Nicole, you captured it very well. Hope to see lots of 49 Writers at next year's conference, June 14-18!

  2. Gorgeous recap of a magical conference. See you next year when we share time, ideas and more magic with 2013 keynote speaker Naomi Shihab Nye! And the wonderful Nicole Stellon O'Donnell.

  3. Beautiful synopsis of many memorable moments…everyone who attended must have their own but you really captured the spirit of the conference.

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