“Exploring the Frontiers of Language” will be the theme of this year’s edition of the North Words Writers Symposium, which will be held in Skagway from May 31 to June 3. This is the eighth annual symposium since the event’s inception.
It was originally inspired during a series of walking conversations between Daniel Henry and Buckwheat Donahue, when the latter was doing his long walk from Miami to Nome, back in the early part of the current century.
They put their heads together with Jeff Brady, who was then the owner and publisher of the Skagway News, and came up with a concept that would allow for a gathering of writers in a variety of fields. They would be guided by a faculty/panel of established writers. These were to be divided into teams to lead seven different workshops.
By some small miracle, they persuaded the Skagway Development Corporation to sponsor the event, with the help of the Municipality of Skagway, Brady’s Skagway Book Co., White Pass and Yukon Route, and several other organizations and businesses.
While there will be presentations and debates among the faculty, there will also be lots of room for participants to speak up and share in the discussions.
Workshop titles this year include the following:
• Gawping at the Exotic: Writing About Common Humanity Amidst the Extraordinary;
• And Then It Happened: Making True Stories Readable;
• Why Is It So Hard to Write About Good Sex?;
• Scenery Shot: Nature as Backdrop, Center Stage, or Character;
• You Must Read This: My Favorite Writers and What They Taught Me;
• Pining for Publication: Roadmaps to Self-Actualization;
• A Miracle of Memory and Invention: How to Sustain Your Creative Flow.
Most of the workshop sessions will take place at the iconic Arctic Brotherhood Hall, in the heart of the business district, which is North Words Central for the symposium. But sometimes there are two workshops scheduled simultaneously, and the alternate setting is the Presbyterian Church, just a short few blocks away.
This year’s faculty list includes Alaska based writers Andy Hall, Lenora Bell, Deb Vanasse, John Straley, Sherry Simpson and Tom Kizzia.
Paul Theroux, author of such novels as The Mosquito Coast and travel books such as The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia and The Old Patagonian Express, will be this year’s faculty superstar.
In addition to the workshops, there will be opportunities for participants to read individually with the faculty, two early-bird writing workshops, an afternoon-delight writing workshop and a haiku breakdown.
The faculty members will each give a reading from their work in the auditorium at the National Park Service Visitor Center on the Thursday night. Delegates will air their works at the Presbyterian Church on Friday afternoon.
On Friday evening the group will meet at Alderworks, the writers/artists retreat that the Brady family has developed on their land in Dyea, for an evening of good barbecue food and music by the Windy Valley Band.
On Saturday afternoon the entire conference will board the White Pass train and disembark at the Laughton Glacier Station, from there to hike 1.5 miles to lunch at a cabin. After that the group will split, some to hike on 1 mile to the toe of the glacier and the west to stay and write at the cabin grounds.
That evening, the symposium will assemble for a banquet dinner at Poppies at Jewell Gardens, and will hear a keynote address by Paul Theroux.
Skagway can live up to its name at this time of year and be a windy city, as well as a rainy one, so it’s best to be prepared for all sorts of weather. But in my experience as the only Yukoner to make it to six of the last seven symposia, it can also be a delightful place and the main danger is being run down by the folks coming off the cruise ships if there happens to be more than one of them in town at a time.