Klondike Korner: Frontiers of Literature

The only disappointing thing about the second annual North Words Writers’ Symposium was that it didn’t take place in Dawson City.

It was intended that it should. Buckwheat Donahue, the founder of the event, had dreams of a moveable literary feast that would follow a circuit from Skagway to Dawson to Denali and back to Skagway in perpetuity, increasing in reputation and size yearly.

Well, we got the size this year. The number of delegates doubled to around 30 and the Yukon’s share of that number increased from just me, to me and six other people.

What we didn’t get was Dawson, which is really a shame considering how much of Dawson’s lasting fame comes from the pens and typewriters of Jack London, Robert Service and Pierre Berton.

It’s even more of a shame when you realize that more than 50 writers of all sorts have been funneled through Berton House since 1996, and that there were over 80 applications for the four annual positions there the last time selections were made.

Dawson and writers go together like peanut butter and jelly, and it’s hard to imagine that a symposium here would not attract a fine faculty as well as a strong group of delegates.

The good news is that the event did not die, but was held once again in Skagway, financed to a great extent by the Skagway town council, which sees the value of such a gathering.

This year’s event was called “Exploring the Frontiers of Language” and featured panel discussions on the writing of memoirs, presenting readable history, humour, creating characters and weaving the stories of multiple characters.

Sessions were held in the Arctic Brotherhood Hall and the Presbyterian Church.

The two best-known writers at the symposium were mystery author John Straley (the Cecil Younger series) and two-time Pulitzer nominee Howard Blum, whose most recent book, just out in April, is The Floor of Heaven: a True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush.

It has already been optioned for a movie treatment and some big names are being considered for the roles of Jefferson “Soapy” Smith, George Carmack and Charlie Siringo.

Blum was also the keynote speaker on the last night of the symposium.

Other panelists included Alaskan writers Kim Heacox, Heather Lende, Peggy Shumaker, Daniel Henry, Elizabeth Dabney, Tim Woody, Seth Kantner, Deb Vanasse, Lynn Schooler and David Hunsaker.

Special events included a tour of the Red Onion Brothel Museum, a day trip by White Pass and Yukon Route to Bennett Lake and Carcross, two banquet dinners, and a tour of the proposed site for a Skagway artists’ and writers’ retreat to be created on Skagway News publisher Jeff Brady’s new acreage in Dyea.

Buckwheat remains determined that the symposium will make it to Dawson. Next year is promised to Denali, but the year after that, 2013, is intended to be Dawson’s year.

Yukon writers, we have two years to get our act together.

After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.

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