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  • Jeremy Pataky

Our Creative Community

I left McCarthy late last week, Juneau-bound for 49 Writers meetings. With other stops along the way, it’s proven to be an inspiring whirlwind. I head back to the Wrangells filled up by this huge place full of creative, hardworking artists, where even the distances that separate us are wild and beautiful.

I arrived in Anchorage after the release party for the latest issue of Alaska Quarterly Review, featuring full-color reproductions of Kes Woodward paintings paired with poems by Peggy Shumaker. I also missed the release party for Made of Salmon, an anthology that Nancy Lord edited, which hit bookshelves about the same time the first kings hit the Copper River delta.

Joan Naviyuk Kane accepts a 2016 IAA

I did make it to the awards ceremony honoring the 2016 Rasmuson Foundation

Individual Artist Award winners, though. 36 artists representing 11 communities in Alaska were chosen from over 400 applications. Literary artists honored that night included Christy NaMee Eriksen, Bryan Fierro, Joan Naviyuk Kane, and Seth Kantner. Visual artist Don Decker, this year’s Distinguished Artist, gave a touching speech that spoke well to the richness of a creative life. Patrick Race’s short film about him is likely of interest to artists across disciplines. I attended the awards ceremony with a former IAA winner, a visual artist. Often, I think I learn as much about looking, seeing, and making from artists as I do from other writers.

First thing Friday morning, I joined board president and writer (and Made of Salmon contributor) Kirsten Dixon, and we left a soggy Anchorage. The sunny weather we found down in the state capitol belied the legislature’s failure to pass a budget after the four month regular session that had just ended. Fortunately, our org’s own governance isn’t taking cues from the State.

Amy O’Neill Houck shuttled us to Joan Pardes’ home for an entire day spent strategizing and planning. I’ll save the spoilers for later, but suffice it to say, it was highly productive time well spent. We wrapped the day up meeting with Juneau members in an informal meet-n-greet. The nearly-full moon, one night shy of “blue”, and exquisite, fleeting alpenglow stopped us in our tracks when we stepped outside after dinner.

Sandy Beach, Douglas Island, near Juneau, Alaska

The next night in Anchorage, gearing up to boomerang back to McCarthy, I enjoyed

another dinner with writerly folks—this one hosted by Olena Kalytiak Davis. Though thoroughly enjoyable and delicious, the night was tinged with a bittersweetness, knowing that it would be the last time we gathered before poets and teachers Alyse Knorr and Kate Partridge leave Alaska soon. Both have been incredible members of the 49 Writers community – as instructors, volunteers, and more – and they’ll be missed. Maybe Olena and Jonathan J. Bower and I can Skype them in next time (I jokes). Still, pre-emptive nostalgia aside, it’s been a privilege to share time and space with them at all, and if it’s one thing we Alaskans have figured out, it’s navigating vast geographies. I know they’ll maintain ties with Alaska’s literary community. It’s also a reminder that our writerly community actually extends far beyond the bounds of the state itself.

dinner aftermath

I’m grateful for the communities that thrive here—or at least survive, stubbornly or otherwise. I’m heading back out past the end of the road knowing the camaraderie of time well spent with other poets, writers, and artists will be folded into the time I spend alone. That solitude—and the work accomplished therein—is sweetened by all the people inside it.

Originally published here on the 49 Writers blog.


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