My shakedown cruise for our trailer has come to be my annual pilgrimage to the town of
Skagway to attend the North Words Writers’ Symposium, held this year from May 25-28 in the windy town. This was the seventh annual event, of which I have attended all but one since the first in 2010.
The symposium was founded by Daniel Henry and by Buckwheat Donahue, who came up with the idea during the latter’s celebrated fund raising walk from Florida to Nome and then from Whitehorse to Skagway, that he began back in October 2005. The town of Skagway bought into financing the venture, and so did Skagway News publisher Jeff Brady, as well as the White Pass and Yukon Route and several other sponsors. A shot train excursion to the Laughton Glacier Station is part of the event.
There were two full-time attendees at this year’s event, and a few day timers. While most came from the Southeast Alaska region, as did most members of the faculty, there are a few exceptions.
There’s me, for instance, quite often the only Canadian at the event, and there were two ladies from Ithaca, New York who learned about the event and timed their planned visit to Alaska to coincide with it.
Then there was this year’s keynote speaker, the very intense and very funny Brian Doyle. He edits Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, in Oregon, and he is the author of such fiction as Mink River, and story collections such as Bin Laden’s Bald Spot & Other Stories, and numerous essays on moral and religious themes.
Aside from public readings by both the faculty and the delegates (I read three of these columns, by the way), the three days are full of themed workshop/discussion sessions. These are held at either The Arctic Brotherhood Hall or St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church.
We all chuckle about some of the workshop titles, devised by Haines based writer and rhetorician Daniel Henry. They are both ambiguous and suggestive and lead the discussions down many byways.
Here is a sample: Published: From Your Brain to the Adoring Readers; Cold Copy: What makes Editors Cringe, Shriek and Fall in Love; Writing Action: Narrative that Breaks a Sweat; Enough with the Xtra Tuffs: Discovering Alaska Beyond Reality.
Aside from the Saturday morning train ride and nature walk, there was a Friday evening halibut bake at Jeff Brady’s Alderworks Retreat, a three cabin writer and artist retreat in Dyea which was inspired by the offerings at Berton House and the Ted Harrison Retreat.
Delegates also have an opportunity for one-on-one consultations with members of the faculty, which includes essayists, nature writers, poets and fiction and nonfiction writers.
The closing banquet is always at Poppies, where a stroll in the magnificent gardens is a great prelude to a fine meal and an inspiring keynote address. Boyle challenged us all to be storycatchers and to make the good stories chase out the bad ones.