There’s no shortage of writing talent that comes out of Alaska, contributing something that has helped shape the national literary scene while giving voice to the forgotten people and places of the last frontier.
Anyone who’s grown up here knows it takes a little extra grit to be an Alaskan. Extremes are the norm here, even if you live in Anchorage. It’s something that will work its way into your soul in such a way that you can’t help but become a stronger, more disciplined writer.
Despite its reputation for being short on artistic resources and outlets, there is a lot going for you here if you’re serious about developing your creative writing talent. Others have done it and you can too. Tom Dooley, who runs one of the nation’s most preeminent online literary magazines is from Alaska. When it comes to getting published with him, he advises caution for writers who want to make the story about themselves. A writer writing about a writer, or a poet creating poetry about a poet, are red flags.
That’s Juneau’s Lucia Berlin’s advice for writers. She’s been described as one of America’s best kept literary secrets, though she died before any of her work received critical acclaim.
Fortunately for today’s aspiring word artists, Alaska’s best authors have either been trained in thought-provoking creative writing programs, served as creative writing teachers themselves, or both. Your career could start with a simple BA in English, or be more refined and directed with an MA or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in creative writing.
Ultimately how serious you are about becoming a writer is a decision you alone must make.
Lucia Berlin Wasn’t Recognized for Her Work Till After Her Passing… For You There is Still Time
In the last decade of her life Juneau-native Lucia Berlin was primarily known to her creative writing students as a great teacher. She would eventually go on to become a New York Times bestselling author with her book, A Manual for Cleaning Women, however it wouldn’t be until 11 years after she passed away.
Berlin was a heavy drinker, mother of four, thrice married, and developed scoliosis so badly that her own spine punctured her lung. The last two books Berlin wrote while she was alive likely only sold a few thousand copies. In fact, she probably sold more books posthumously in two weeks then she did during her entire lifetime.
Towards the end of her life she accepted a position teaching creative writing which fortunately allowed her to pass her gift on to many accomplished professional writers who are active today.
Kodiak-native Leslie Leyland Fields is many things, including a multi-award-winning author of 12 books and teacher of creative writing. Her published titles include, Out On The Deep Blue, and, The Water Under Fish.
In the past Fields taught creative writing and literature at the University of Alaska for over a decade, and she continues to teach creative writing online. Each year she leads The Harvester Island Writers’ Workshop on a small island adjacent to Kodiak. Fields earned her graduate degrees in journalism, English, and an MFA in creative non-fiction.
Eclectica Magazine is one of the nation’s oldest online literary publications. It was conceived by Tom Dooley, from the Aleutian Island of Adak, and his literary partner Chris Lott as the digital age was being born in the 1990s.
Meant to be a virtual answer to the likes of the New Yorker or Harper’s, authors who got an early start at Eclectica include many of today’s acclaimed names.
Dooley launched his publication after earning his BA in English Literature. You can still find him ever hard at work on the next quarterly edition that’s about to be released, or as a speaker at writing conferences and panel discussions.
Alaska Creative Writing Classes, Courses, and Workshops Can Prepare You for a Creative Writing Degree
Despite being one of the least-populated states in the nation, there are ample opportunities in Alaska where you can find support and camaraderie as a writer.
The Alaska Writers Guild exists to support writers in all stages of the craft. It organizes regular writer group meetings in Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley, and Interior Alaska. For fun, consider their quarterly writing contest with cash prizes awarded for the best submissions in categories of nonfiction/memoir, fiction, children’s literature, and poetry. The AWG also gives out scholarships and hosts an annual Anchorage conference.
If you have material you want to read and present, consider 49 Writers. It’s based in Anchorage but many of its events are also offered virtually. Every fall and spring it hosts several reading and conversation sessions. It also offers workshops, writing courses, writing retreats, and puts out its own podcast.
Poetry, fiction, and non-fiction writers can consider Anchorage Writers, a group that emphasizes workshopping as a means to improvement.
The Storyknife Writers Retreat is a grouping of green cabins in Homer where women writers meet to support each other in their craft. Retreats are offered for two or four-week periods. Writers have their own cabins, while meals are included and served in a communal dining hall. All writers who apply for this program are assumed to be goal oriented towards publishing.
Since its inception hundreds of writers have group-shared their work as part of the Fairbanks Community Writers Group. With a mission to nurture those pursuing this craft regardless of style, new writers are welcome to join its monthly meetings and submit pieces for critique.
Once you develop something you’re ready to publish it’s time to check out places like the Alaska Quarterly Review. It’s considered by outlets like the Washington Post as being one of the nation’s best literary magazines. A new edition comes out twice each year and it features the work of emerging writers’ non-commercial work.
Fathom Publishing Company based in Anchorage publishes a range of books including fiction, young adult, biography, and Alaskana.
McRoy and Blackburn Publishers based in Ester specializes in fictional books with a northern flavor by Alaskans in residence or spirit.
Writing Colleges in Alaska Offering Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Creative Writing Provide a Path to Becoming a Writer
Local writing groups and your local scene in general can be amazingly helpful and a lot of fun, but they can also be a life sentence for your career.
An academic program in creative writing, whether a BA, BFA, MA or MFA, can put you in the unique place of being guided by professors who’ve had decades of experience in both the creative and business sides of writing.
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and Other Bachelor’s Degrees in Creative Writing in Alaska
Alaska Pacific University
Degree: Bachelor – BA
University of Alaska Anchorage
Degree: Bachelor – BA
Master of Fine Arts (MFA) and Other Master’s Degrees in Creative Writing in Alaska
Alaska Pacific University
Degree: Master – MFA
University of Alaska Fairbanks
COLLEGE OF LIBERAL ARTS
Degree: Master – MFA