Thirty-three years ago, Haines Junction English teacher Elayne Hurlburt and a friend started the St. Elias Echo. It’s still published today and Hurlburt is still writing.
Like many in her family, Hurlburt has written all her life.
“There are times when a creative energy seems to sweep through me and I have to write,” she says. Her first publishing credit was an autobiography of an old house published in the local newspaper when she was 12.
She’s since written for the Yukon News, Kluane National Park, the Yukon and Alberta departments of Education and Yukon College, teaching all the while.
“It’s so much easier to teach writing than it is to actually write,” she says. In fact, sometimes she only loves writing “if someone else has done it!”
A voracious reader, Hurlburt prefers old and new classics, Canadian books and, more recently, memoirs.
In the past four years she’s published three books.
In Her Own Words is a brief account of her mother’s life. From First We Met to Internet is a compilation of 70 stories written by 55 people in Haines Junction, and her most recent book is an inspirational journal titled The Garden Says Create.
“That book came to me all at once,” says Hurlburt – she wrote the words of wisdom in four hours. Blank pages are interspersed for readers to exercise their own creativity with journal entries, artwork, photos and memories.
Hurlburt didn’t have the luxury of studying her craft in a fine arts program like many writers starting out today. Instead she earned a journalism diploma by distance education in the 1990s, took creative writing courses at University of Victoria and Camosun College, and participated in a one-week writing workshop in Cape Cod.
“The biggest advantage of taking courses is that I had to practise writing,” she says.
By contrast, as a teacher she had to write on demand and “had no time to muse and practise first for fun or to perfect the creative writing craft.”
Her advice is to new writers is: “if you want to be a writer, don’t be an English teacher first. Everything will be correct, but boring!”
While local support for writers isn’t formal in the Junction, wordsmiths seem to thrive there. “When we did From First We Met many people here wrote fabulous stories.”
There is also a welcoming public library where, for the past two years, Hurlburt and a friend have met for writing sessions every Monday afternoon.
In general, though, Hurlburt appreciates the solitude of writing in a small community.
“A busy coffee shop where I know no one would be my ideal, but in a tiny town that’s not an option.”
In fact, there are days when Hurlburt doesn’t feel isolated enough. On those days she works in a small studio separate from her house.
“For me, any time alone is good. My mantra is ‘imagination is a whole nation of images.’ Those images are inside you, so you don’t need bright city lights, even Whitehorse, to be able to write.”