It’s a quiet morning in the tall pines. Six inches of snow have fallen, and the breezes of the past few days have died down. Oregon juncos – like Alaskan ones but with peachy patches on their breasts – gather in small flocks outside the window. A bright varied thrush rests in a high branch before darting beneath the deck to investigate the snow-free patch of ground covered with cones and needles cast off in the season past. A cup of tea sits cooling on my 92-year-old mother-in-law’s dining room table, where I’ve encamped with my laptop. With the end of the year approaching – a year that has been exhilarating and devastating and everything in between – it seems like a good time to seek solace and comfort in the ritual of writing.
At a workshop in Homer a few years back, the wonderful novelist, poet, and non-fiction writer Luis Alberto Urrea asked all of us gathered what had brought us there – what made us keep showing up in writing classes. It was a surprisingly difficult question to answer, for me and many others, as we went around the table trying to explain ourselves. I had no special project in mind, no particular story I’d been struggling to tell, no grand vision of becoming a published author. But after a career in law and years of activism, I’d seen the power of the written word and been taken under its spell. I wanted writing to be a significant part of my life, and I wanted to write better. I don’t remember what I said that day, but after we had each taken our turn, Luis offered his perspective on why we were there: “You’re possessed by the writing spirit,” he said simply. It has made as much sense to me in the years since as any other explanation for why I turn, time and again, to the blank page.
My writing life has been erratic and often stalled by other commitments and my life-long aversion to daily regimens. I’ve never been able to dedicate a regular schedule to the process, writing only when the spirit moves me and the planets align. But it remains one of the most satisfying and necessary endeavors of my life, the best way I know to tap into the creative whispers that call from the back of my mind. And it has brought me into a dedicated community of fellow writers, many of whom are now treasured friends.
Along the way, 49 Writers has been a constant source of support and inspiration. My first 49 Writers workshop – with the late and much-missed Frank Soos – was a breakthrough for me, opening my eyes to the possibilities of the personal essay. Other classes followed, with nonfiction writers and novelists, poets and screenwriters. All have been invaluable to me, for both honing my craft and building the comradery that helps sustain it. My writing group, now in its sixth year, formed after the four of us kept showing up in the same 49 Writers classes. My literary group (we call ourselves the “Salonistas”) can be traced to a particularly delightful 49 Writers class that inspired a poet friend to bring us together. And over the past two years, as the pandemic has raged and relationships in the broader world have twisted and frayed, I’ve found fellowship in Alaska’s writing community on many levels. Through online newsletter postings, Zoom readings, works shared in classes, or the books many have brought to life, the thoughts and perspectives of fellow writers have offered me hope and calm in tumultuous times.
As the year ends, I still don’t have a special project in mind, or a particular story, or clear ambitions. But thanks to 49 Writers, I feel better able to say what I need to say, when I need to say it. And that, I’ve discovered, is what matters to me most. For each of us, the goals and measures of our writing lives will be different. But whatever they are, we can all benefit from the 49 Writers mission: fostering a dynamic community of diverse writers coming together to find and share our voices. And we can all play a supporting role.
As the New Year begins, we at 49 Writers extend our great appreciation to all our members everywhere. You are the reason we exist, and you help keep us going. We especially acknowledge the many of you who have contributed to membership at the donor level. You’ve helped us think positively about the future and come closer to our goal of sustainability. And finally, we applaud the authors who presented readings or classes for us this past year, the board members who volunteered their time to ensure the smooth functioning of the organization, and the staff coordinators who performed the day-to-day operations required to implement our services and programming. The generosity all of you have shown has helped us remain strong and relevant in changing times, and we are deeply grateful.
To me, there has never been a more important time to use our skills and inspiration as writers. Through our commitment to the written word, we can help forge paths of clarity through the storms of confusion that surround us. We can preserve the stories of these transformational times. We can give to ourselves the solace and peace that honoring the writing spirit so often brings.
And through 49 Writers, we can do it all in good company.
Happy New Year, and keep writing!
Barbara Hood, Board President